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Attitudes to Gender and Race in
France during World War One
Joshua Cockburn
UMI Number: U584062
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Summary of Thesis
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University of Wales
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Summary:
This thesis examines the impact that the First World War had on French thinking
about race and gender. It argues ideas about those two categories were strongly linked
at the time. It argues that the often dramatic changes o f the war were understood
within a framework o f pre-war ideas which helped to both determine and explain the
behaviour o f different sexes and different races during the conflict. These ideas were
adaptable and sometimes contradictory which allowed them to be utilised to describe
changing circumstances in ways that did not undermine traditional thinking. While
there was uncertainty over the categories o f gender and race during the war, it largely
followed the pattern o f pre-war debates and resulted in little more disruption to
established ideas than those debates had.
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STATEMENT 1
This thesis is the result o f my own investigations, except where otherwise stated.
Other sources are acknowledged by footnotes giving explicit reference. A
bibliography is appended.
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I hereby give consent for my thesis, if accepted, to be available for photocopying and
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Acknowledgements
The completion o f a PhD would not have been possible without the help of numerous
people. Firstly, I’d like to thank my supervisor, Kevin Passmore, for his friendly and
patient assistance. I’d also like to thank the History department at Cardiff University
for providing a supportive environment, and in particular Padma Anagol and Garthine
Walker for their encouragement. I am also grateful for the assistance o f the staffs of
the Bibliotheque nationale de France, the Archives nationals, and the British Library.
I was also helped hugely by various friends, directly and indirectly. In particular:
Alison Binns, Bryany Cusens, Mair Rigby and Rachel Bowen all offered help beyond
mere friendship. I’m also grateful to Kalyn Wilson for her proof-reading efforts, and
in particular her valiant (if often fruitless) attempts to purge out the passive voice and
to Marie Baldovini for her advice on particularly tricky French phrases.
Last, but emphatically not least, I’d like to thank my family, without whose financial
and emotional support I’d never have embarked on this project, far less completed it.
In particular, my parents, my brother, John and Kathleen Reilly and Phyllis Cockbum
all deserve special thanks.
This thesis is dedicated to Margaret Skelton Cockbum, who I’m sure would have been
inordinately proud.
Contents
Introduction
p.
2
Chapter 1
The Racial O ther
p. 21
Chapter 2
Race and Nationality
p. 83
Chapter 3
World War One and G ender Relations
p. 141
Chapter 4
Gender, Race and Em ploym ent
p. 211
Conclusion
P 293
Bibliography
P 303
l
Introduction
In May 1917, a police report in Le Havre stated that a common sentiment in the
munitions factory there was that
If this continues, there will not be any men left in France; so why are we fighting? So that Chinese,
Arabs, or Spaniards can marry our wives and daughters and share out the France for which w e’ll all,
sooner or later, get ourselves killed at the front.1
The police concluded that this attitude demonstrated jealousy of both foreign workers
and allied soldiers. Not only does the statement betray a fear o f a loss of national
identity; it also provides evidence o f the sexual insecurity that was prevalent during
the war. The French feared that women’s new found independence would lead to the
abandonment o f their husbands. For the soldiers at the front there was the added
factor of long-term separation from their wives and girlfriends while they risked their
lives on a daily basis. This meant that their loved ones were often unable to
comprehend the suffering on the front, shielded as they were by distance and
censorship.
In 1918, Dr Louis Fiaux, a social reformer and expert on prostitution, described the
social crisis that he perceived had resulted from the movement o f so many French
men to the frontlines.
Quelles consequences ne devaient point avoir ces exodes d’hommes par masses, ces delaissements
equivalents des femmes. Ces innombrables foyers familiaux rompus et disperses, les hommes maries
redevenus celibataires, les jeunes gens non maries eloignes de leurs habitudes de cceur ou de leurs
arrangements, les circonstances du celibat viril comme les conditions ordinaires de la prostitution
feminine bouleversees, sans omettre tous les vides incertains, tous les vides definitifs laisses a l’arriere
par les prisonniers, les disparus et les morts de l’avant, sans oublier surtout la crise economique de
gene et de misere s ’abattant sur les femmes du proletariat reduites par milliers et milliers aux plus
insuffisantes ressources, quelque intelligente et humaine que soit l’intervention des secours publics. A
1 John N. Home, “Immigrant Workers in France during World War I” in French Historical Studies 141 (Spring 1985) , p. 85.
2
1’ensemble et aux details de ce trop veridique tableau, comment s ’etonner de ce bouleversement des
moeurs?2
A M. Marchetti, speaking in 1919 at a veterans meeting in Marseille, lamented that
while the soldiers were fighting, “d’autres a l’arriere, parmi lesquels beaucoup
d’etrangers, s’enrichissaient scandaleusement a nos depens.”3
These quotations describe a world where dislocation caused by war resulted in
comprehensive disturbance o f social norms. The absence o f many o f France’s men
had created a space that could potentially be filled by women and foreigners
performing roles that were not those conventionally expected of them. The question
addressed here is whether this dislocation resulted in any significant changes in how
French society perceived women and foreigners, or whether existing discourses on
gender, race and nationality survived the turmoil of the war.
The destruction and disruption caused in Europe by the Great War was vast, and the
imprint it left in politics and individual consciousness was longstanding. For Eric
Hobsbawm the war “marked the breakdown o f the (western) civilization o f the
nineteenth century.”4 The idea o f the war as marking a decisive shift in history is a
staple of the historiography o f the period, often with substantial justification. The
debates over gender, nationality and race have been no different.
Historians have demonstrated that attitudes towards race and gender are an essential
constitutive element o f any society. The French believed that the governments and
citizens o f foreign countries acted in ways determined by their racial and national
characteristics; this belief shaped relations between France and its neighbours. The
growing presence o f foreigners on French soil only emphasised the importance o f this
issue. There were now individuals living in France whose motivation and morality
were believed to be not just different from the French, but potentially capable of
undermining France’s own national characteristics. Meanwhile there was scarcely a
2 Louis Fiaux, L ’A rmee et la Police des Moeurs, Paris: Libraire Felix Alcan (1918) p. vi.
3 AN F/7/13243, 17 March, 1919.
4 Eric Hobsbawm, Age o f Extremes; The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991. St Ives: Abacus (1995)
p. 6.
3
relationship o f any sort in France that was not moulded by both accepted and
contested gender relations.
My conception o f gender relations is similar to that expressed by Denise Riley where
she defines “women” as
historically, discursively constructed and always relative to other categories that themselves change;
“women” is a volatile collectivity in which female persons can be very differently positioned, so that
the apparent continuity o f the subject o f “women” isn’t to be relied upon;5
Amongst the “other categories” that Riley mentions, race is a primary example.
French racial thinking had little, if any, basis in any objective reality, but was
constructed amongst an accumulation o f discourses arising from myriad scientific
theories, arbitrary designations, geo-political history and simple prejudice. The huge
variety o f discourses in politics, in literature, in the press, in art, in everyday
conversation, that served to construct the categories of gender and race inevitably led
to a variety o f perceptions towards those categories. Indeed the notion o f gender and
race as contested ideologies is crucial to an understanding of public attitudes towards
them. During the First World War - as before and since - there was no single,
unquestioned social view o f the “natural order o f things”. While many conceptions
held almost universal sway, considerable scope for debate appeared on some issues
and within virtually every element o f society. For example the idea that whites were
different and superior to non-whites was considered a given, but the extent of this
superiority and the ways in which it manifested itself was more controversial.6 This
thesis is predicated on the contention that there was a multitude o f public opinions,
and that their interaction was a major determining factor in the history o f the period.
The other important issue here is that although these ideologies were historically
contested and constructed, they were expressed and acted upon as if they were secure,
5 Denise Riley, Am I That N am e’: Feminism and the Category o f ‘Women’ in History. Basingstoke:
MacMillan (1988) pp. 1-2.
6 In using the term “non-whites” I follow Tyler Stovall who argues that while the description is
problematic, it offers the closest approximation to the reductionist way in which race was seen at the
time. Tyler Stovall, “The Color Line Behind The Lines: Racial Violence in France During the Great
War” in American Historical Review 1998 103(3) p. 737 n. 2.
4
natural and constant. Joan Scott argues convincingly that the “meaning of male and
female, masculine and feminine” is “categorically and unequivocally” asserted
through normative statements. Despite the contestation o f these concepts that
underpin these statements, “the position that emerges as dominant [...] is stated as the
only possible one. Subsequent history is written as if these normative positions were
the product o f social consensus rather than conflict.”7
The apparent dichotomy between conceptions o f gender and race as natural,
unchanging and reliable categories and simultaneously sites of contestation amongst a
variety o f ideologies is crucial to explaining any evolution in basic ideological
assumptions about these categories. The availability o f alternative norms allowed the
potential for change over time instead o f imposing an ahistorical consistency. Yet the
crucial role that that gender and race played in the French understanding o f their
society and their belief that this foundation was a solid, natural one meant that any
change was a difficult and inherently traumatic process. Hence any significant change
in attitude in these matters was unlikely over a short period of time, and any change
or perceived change was likely to be accompanied with much anguished questioning
of what concepts could be relied upon.
While this study does focus primarily on discourses o f gender and race as opposed to
social experience, it does not argue that discourse is entirely constitutive of what it
describes. The attitudes expressed by the French had a direct impact on how they
lived their lives. So a discourse that presented the courage o f black men as savage and
reckless while that o f white men was calm and rational manifested itself in a French
military doctrine that suggested that colonial troops were best suited to assaults on
enemy positions, but were unreliable at combating enemy attacks. In turn the putting
into practice o f this doctrine manifested itself in the relatively high proportion of
Q
casualties suffered by African troops during offensive operations.
The process was
not all one way either, while discourses often are self-reinforcing, the lived
experiences o f the population could and did allow them to modify their views. In
certain areas o f thought the events o f the First World War did have a significant
7 Joan Wallach Scott, Gender and the Politics o f History. New York: Columbia University Press
(1988) p. 43.
5
impact on people’s attitudes on issues such as pacifism or depopulation. This study
seeks to understand why, despite often significant differences in the behaviour of
women and foreigners from that suggested in pre-war discourses concerning them,
there were not comparable changes in the discourses on those subjects.
The focus on two, potentially discrete, categories: gender and race; is important for a
number o f reasons. In part, this is because the ways in which pre-war assumptions
were maintained was similar in both instances, the behaviour of both women and
foreigners was consistently viewed and analysed through preconceptions that existed
before the war. More crucial is that the two categories were frequently linked at the
time, in scientific discourse, popular rhetoric and public policy.
Nancy Stepan has argued that
So familiar and indeed axiomatic had the analogies concerning ‘lower races,’ ‘apes,’ and ‘women’
become by the end o f the nineteenth century that in his major study o f male-female differences in the
human species, [Havelock] Ellis took almost without comment as the standards o f which to measure
the ‘typical female’ on the one hand ‘the child’ and on the other ‘the ape,’ ‘the savage,’ and the ‘aged
human.’9
August Strindberg writing in 1895 quoted Darwin and craniologists to conclude that,
“between the child, woman and the inferior races there exists a not negligible
analogy.”10 Alphonse Seche, who wrote on the subject o f black soldiers during the
war, claimed that female nurses got on well with wounded Senegalese because of
their shared sentimentality. “Les noirs sont des grands enfants, de grands enfants
susceptibles, sentimentaux et orgueilleux.” “Les femmes (nurses o f Senegalese
soldiers) seront toujours sentimentales, et c ’est heureux, car nous gagnons a cela des
gardesmalades incomparables.”11 William Vogt wrote in Le Sexe faible, published in
8 These issues are discussed in more detail in Chapter 1. pp. 67-71.
9 Nancy Leys Stepan, “Race and Gender: The Role o f Analogy in Science” in David Theo Goldberg
ed. Anatomy o f Racism. Minneapolis: University o f Minnesota Press (1990), p. 52.
10 Bram Dijkstra, Idols o f Perversity: Fantasies o f Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture. New York,
Oxford: Oxford University Press (1986), p. 170.
11 Alphonse Seche, Les Noirs; d ’apres des documents officiels. Paris: Payot & Cie (1919), p.37, p.
236.
6
1908, that “Les femmes etant comme certains juifs, partout ou elles ont pris pied,
sachez leur imposer silence”
19
The two categories were often placed together in wartime legislation, notably when,
in January 1917, a new system o f pay was designed by Albert Thomas, with the
(ultimately unsuccessful) aim o f ensuring that female and foreign workers both
gained the same wages as French men.13 When Bleriot sought to lay off workers in
1918 it eliminated foreign and female labour along with its apprentices.14 Martha
Hanna concludes in her work on the education system that women and foreigners
were classified together.
Two themes emerge from these debates about standards, rigor, and academic competence in classical
languages. The first was an ill-concealed tendency on the part o f most scholars, including those who
favored the educational advancement o f young women, to categorize French women as “foreigners”
within the confines o f the university. Throughout the war years discussions about the education of
French women arose only when the faculty were considering how to satisfy the academic needs o f
American men. Mingled with the belief that French women and American men had comparable
abilities, aptitudes, and interests was the impulse to blame French women for declining standards.15
For French women themselves, foreigners remained a consistent point o f reference,
although often in a context that criticised society for placing women at a level
equivalent, or even below that o f foreigners. When Helene Brion was charged for
treason for distributing pacifist pamphlets, in her trial she claimed that it was unfair
that “before the law I am not the equal o f an illiterate black from Guadeloupe or the
Ivory Coast.”16 In the socialist and feminist journal, La Vague, Marcelle Capy
claimed that the situations in which women were working during the war meant that
“L’Europe est tombee aux rangs de ces peuplades barbares ou les femmes sont des
betes de somme et des hommes des betes fauves.”17
12 Annelise Maugue, “Litterature antifeministe et angoisse masculine au toumant du siecle” in
Christine Bard (ed.) Un siecle d ’antifeminisme. Paris: Fayard (1999) p. 69.
13 Home, “Immigrant Workers in France” p. 77.
14 Laura Lee Downs, Manufacturing Inequality: Gender Division in the French and British
Metalworking Industry, 1914-1939 Ithaca: Cornell University Press (1995) p. 186.
15 Martha Hanna, “French Women and American Men: “Foreign” Students at the University o f Paris,
1915-1925” in French Historical Studies 22:1 (1999) pp. 110-111.
16 Quoted in Marilyn Shevin-Coetzee and Frans Coetzee, World War I and European Society, a
sourcebook, Lexington MA, Toronto: D. C. Heath and Company (1995) p. 267.
17 La Vague, 5 January, 1918.
7
The belief that gender, race and nationality were linked, fixed categories was made
most explicitly by the radical nineteenth century anthropologist and sociologist
Vacher de Lapouge who claimed “The prince can no more make a Frenchman from a
Greek or a Moroccan than he can bleach the skin o f a negro, make round the eyes of a
Chinaman or change a woman into a man.”18
Despite the ways in which discourses o f race, gender and nationality intersected and
overlapped, this essay does not seek to argue that the war affected each discourse in
an identical way. Partly this is due to the different ways in which the discourses were
structured and their functions in ordering French society and partly it is due to the
different experiences lived by men and women, French and foreigners, whites and
non-whites. For example, because France’s colonial subjects were under the control
of metropolitan authorities, their utilisation in the war closely followed existing
conceptions about their nature and abilities. Similar control o f French women was
much more difficult, and that o f non-French subjects non-existent. Thus these groups
had much more scope to act in ways contrary to accepted discourse and posed a
significantly greater threat to that discourse.
The early consensus over women’s position in society arose out o f contemporary
views that the war advanced the status o f women immeasurably, far more than
decades o f feminist activity preceding it. The oft-lauded heroism o f women in coping
without their menfolk, and the successful way they adjusted to new tasks convinced
men that women were capable o f playing a much wider role in society than
previously afforded. The first significant challenge to this view came from James
MacMillan who saw the war as having a conservative impact, reinforcing an image of
women as housewives and mothers. Michelle Perrot argued that not only was the war
not emancipatory, but that it halted a progressive movement that was gathering
momentum in the years before the war.19
18 Neil MacMaster, Racism in Europe, 1870-2000, Basingstoke: Palgrave (2001) p. 32.
19 Janies MacMillan, Housewife or Harlot? The Place o f Women in French Society, 1870-1940
Brighton: Harvester (1981) Michelle Perrot, “The New Eve and the Old Adam: Changes in French
Women’s Condition at the Turn o f the Century” in Margaret R. Higonnet et al (eds) Behind the Lines:
Gender and the Two World Wars. New Haven: Yale University Press (1987).
8
Other historians have argued that while the war did disrupt traditional norms, that
these changes were not durable and that the immediate post-war period saw the
reconstruction o f gender in a conservative manner. In this interpretation the division
between the troops on the frontline and the home front was crucial. This division was
seen in gendered terms, with the home front seen as a feminine counterpart to the
male world o f the trenches. The soldiers, angered by the lack o f comprehension of
their sufferings by those at home and fearing sexual betrayal by women, developed a
great hostility towards the social developments that the war was believed to have
fostered. This hostility resulted in post-war antagonism towards the social progress of
women.20
Margaret and Patrice Higonnet argue that
[I]f we perceive the wartime changes in women’s roles as a realignment o f social territory that
produces [...] greater social equality, then the rapid retreat from those advances during the immediate
postwar years seems puzzling.21
They offer an explanation through the device of the double helix. In this interpretation
the female strand is intertwined with the male strand, with the two strands in
opposition with the female strand positioned in subordination to the male strand.
Whatever changes occur in wartime is ultimately inconsequential.
In the long run, however, the dynamic o f gender subordination remains as it was. After the war, the
lines o f gender can therefore be redrawn to conform to the prewar map o f relations between men’s and
women’s roles. Even when material conditions for women differ after the war, the fundamental
devaluation o f the tasks assigned to them remains.23
20 These historical debates are well summed up by Fran^oise Thebaud, “The Great War and the
Triumph o f Sexual Division” in Fran?oise Thebaud (ed) A History o f Women, Vol. 5: Toward a
Cultural Identity in the Twentieth Century. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass. (1994) pp.
21-75.
21 Margaret R. Higonnet and Patrice L.-R Higonnet “The Double Helix” in Higonnet et al (eds) Behind
the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars. New Haven: Yale University Press (1987) p. 31.
22 Higonnet and Higonnet “The Double Helix” p. 34.
23 Higonnet and Higonnet “The Double Helix” p. 35.
9
Where this thesis differs from that approach is through a rejection of the idea that the
war saw a breakdown in gender relations that was resolved by a retrospective post­
war reinterpretation o f women’s activities in traditional terms. Instead, it argues that
throughout the war the activities o f women were interpreted in a manner consistent
with pre-war conceptions o f gender relations. While the roles women performed in
wartime often differed significantly from those that existing conceptions of gender
would prescribe, such roles were offered, accepted and understood by both women
and men within the framework o f those conceptions. Not only were these conceptions
flexible enough to withstand the ruptures caused by the conflict but also the key
assumptions that underpinned them continued to be largely unthreatened. Laura Lee
Downs has convincingly argued that in the metalworking industries of Britain and
France the organisation and reorganisation o f the labour process during the war was
based upon employers’ “conviction that male-female differences are stable and
knowable”. Although beliefs about gender difference were felt to be stable and
natural, the multitude o f assumptions contained considerable scope for incongruent
and contradictory ideas. Downs argues that
sexual division was treated as a foundational principle o f production and o f shop-floor order. Yet that
division shifted over time and from place to place in a way that suggested that this fundamental fact o f
life, bedrock o f a factory pecking order, might not be natural and immutable, but rather a construction
that required constant reinforcement if it was to endure.24
It will be argued that Downs’ argument is applicable beyond the metalworking
industries. Traditional assumptions o f gender roles informed all areas o f French
society, and even radical wartime change was understood in the context o f those
assumptions. The subordination o f women to men in French hierarchies and the
greater status automatically accorded to work carried out by men to that of women
was one o f these key assumptions, but it was by no means the only one. Amongst the
other beliefs that informed French understandings o f gender relations was a
conviction that women had several innate characteristics, including being nurturing,
patient, deft, sentimental, irrational and intellectually passive. These traits were
repeatedly used to describe and understand the actions o f women during the war. The
24 Downs, Manufacturing Inequality, pp. 11-12.
10
sometimes contradictory nature o f beliefs over sexual difference could be a source for
unease; they also offered considerable scope for those beliefs to adjust and take in
new historical realities, while retaining their normative force.
The debate over French attitudes towards those o f other nationalities and races shows
similar differences o f opinion. It has been argued that the presence o f other races in
France in unprecedented numbers allowed these foreigners to dismantle beliefs
amongst the French population that they were terrible savages and replace them with
a more benevolent image o f loyal colonial subjects, overgrown children to be
patronised rather than feared. For historians like Phillip Dewitte and Robert Aldrich
any changes that were made by the war were in this direction.25 Dewitte claims that
[...] 1’arrivee en metropole des tirailleurs, leurs contacts avec les indigenes de France: poilus,
infirmieres ou marraines de guerre, ont fait evoluer les mentalites. Le stereotype du ‘bon negre’, doux,
sociable et rieur, va bientot predominer. Apres-guerre, l’Africain n’est plus ce sauvage effroyant, mais
un ‘grand enfant’ naif et tout dispose a recevoir ‘la Civilisation’.26
Aldrich argues much the same thing. “The heroism o f the tirailleurs senegalais
during the war helped change the stereotypes of Africans, the jungle savage replaced
77
by the smiling, brave soldier willing to sacrifice his life for France.”
Tyler Stovall expresses the alternative interpretation:
For a variety o f reasons, in certain contexts, people o f color came to symbolize both the war in general
and its deleterious impact on the French working class in particular, and some members o f the latter
targeted colonial labourers as an outlet for frustrations about the ongoing conflict.28
Similarly, Gerard Noiriel has argued, “The First World War [...] radicalized distrust
of all non-French individuals”.29
25 Phillipe Dewitte, Les Mouvements Negres en France, 1919-1939. Paris: L’Harmattan (1985).
Robert Aldrich, Greater France: A History o f French Overseas Expansion. Basingstoke: McMillan
(1996).
26 Dewitte, Les Mouvements Negres en France, p. 12.
27 Aldrich, Greater France, p. 223.
28 Stovall, “The Color Line Behind The Lines”, p. 739-40.
29 Gerard Noiriel, The French Melting Pot; Immigration, Citizenship and National Identity.
Minneapolis: University o f Minnesota Press (1996) p. 61.
11
In examining these interpretations, this thesis suggests that many historians
exaggerate the impact o f the war on attitudes towards race and gender. It argues that
the resilience and flexibility o f existing discourses often allowed pre-war ideas to be
maintained, despite the presence o f many individuals acting in roles that could seem
to challenge those discourses. Neither the disruptions of the war, nor the reaction to
that disruption were able to fundamentally shift these entrenched ideas. Throughout
the war, the actions o f men and women o f all nationalities were ordered and
interpreted in terms that revealed an acceptance o f inherent innate differences
amongst them. This is not to deny human agency or to suggest that each individual
was wholly bound by these discourses. What people experienced in the war could
modify their views even on perceived “natural” categories like gender and race, and
sometimes they did. The existence o f competing discourses allowed each individual
to find the position that seemed most accurate to them, amongst the discourses
available to them. A continual process o f construction and reconstruction of these
categories enabled excluded groups to take on new roles and gave the scope for
evolution o f attitudes, but these changes were restricted by certain beliefs that
remained constant. People’s responses to the war were expressed in ways that showed
great continuity with the pre- and post-war period.
This study is based on a wide range o f primary materials. The breadth o f sources
chosen represents a deliberate methodological choice to examine a variety of different
attitudes, even at the risk o f occasional lack of depth o f analysis. This is a study of
certain attitudes, and while it is hoped that these attitudes are representative, there is
no claim for definitiveness. Geographically, again this study is intended to be as
varied as possible, although the primary areas o f study are the cities of Marseille,
Toulouse, Lyon, Bordeaux and Nantes and their environs.
It draws heavily on newspapers; in particular major provincial newspapers, the
conservative Le Petit Marseillais and L ’Ouest-Eclair, the moderate La Petite
Gironde, and the liberal La Depeche. Others consulted include the conservative
L ’Echo de Midi, a newspaper o f the colonial movement La Depeche Coloniale, the
12
syndicalist La Bataille, and the socialist and feminist La Vague?0 Although these
newspapers spanned most o f the political spectrum, on these issues there was rarely
significant difference in their interpretations, and some journalists appeared in more
than one publication. Pierre Mille for instance wrote columns in both the Petit
Marseillais and La Depeche. This focus on provincial newspapers is largely due to a
desire to obtain a broader national perspective rather than one dominated by Paris, but
also informed by the argument o f Ross Collins that distance from Paris allowed
provincial newspapers more freedom from the censor and they were able to report
more objectively.31
Of course, opinions published in newspapers cannot be taken as a direct gauge of
public opinion. Those who published and wrote in them are not representative either
of their readership or o f the public as a whole, either in terms o f their social
background or in terms o f their views. However, as Pierre Purseigle has argued, what
is revealing is the attempts o f popular “newspapers to get the largest circulation
possible thanks to their market-driven content, and thus on the dialectical relationship
this implied with their readers.”
Given this relationship, they can be seen as offering
some indication o f public opinion, at least among the newspaper reading public. In
addition to this, even if they are not considered representative o f general attitudes,
examining changes in opinion (or the lack thereof) in newspapers is suggestive and
significant in its own right.
The censorship o f the war years does reduce the utility o f newspapers somewhat;
some of the more hostile commentary aimed at women and, especially, foreigners
may have been excised by the censors, or by self-censorship on the part o f the
journalists themselves. For example, La Vague featured in 1918 a “Lettre de Roanne”
which was cut by the censors to remove references to the foreigners who worked in
the arsenal there, and the accusation that their employment went against France’s
national interest.
30 From October 1915 the Depeche Coloniale became La Depeche Coloniale et Maritime.
31 Ross F. Collins, ‘“ Cossacks Marching to Berlin!’ A New Look at French Journalism during the First
World War in American Journalism, 18-4 (2001) pp. 29-44.
32 Pierre Purseigle, “Mirroring societies at war: pictorial humour in the British and French popular
press during the First World War” in Journal o f European Studies, 31 (2001) p. 289.
13
Dans l’Arsenal Albert Thomas, on a releve les classes 14 et 13. On devait remplacer par des R.A.T.
Mais on a envoye a leur place des prisonniers allemands, des Chinois, toutes sortes d ’etrangers. C ’est
contraire aux circu lates de I ’Armement et contraire aux interets de la France, contre aux vues
d ’avenir de la classe ouvriere.33
According to Fran9oise Navet-Bouron, it wasn’t just criticism of foreigners that could
be excised. Excessive praise could be a problem. “Les articles faisant l’eloge des
troupes indigenes sont soigneusement epluches, les censeurs devant veiller a ce qu’ils
‘n’exaltent pas leur valeur au detriment des autre troupes’”.34 Attacks on neutral
countries and governments were also restricted, particularly those directed at the US
and Greece.35
Despite censorship there is still an abundance o f revealing material in the newspapers.
The reduction in the number o f pages they were allowed to have means that the
papers had no option but to focus on the most important issues o f the day, so their
priorities are made very clear. The presence o f censorship, restricting the expression
of more radical ideas, makes it clearer what ideas are considered mainstream and
acceptable. Letters sent home from the front were subject to even more stringent
official scrutiny but again this reveals and highlights what sentiments were
considered to be acceptable. The context o f these letters also influences their content;
they were primarily intended to ease the worries of loved ones at home. In their
collection o f letters, 14-18, le cri d ’un generation, Remy Cazals and Frederic
Rousseau cite the case o f Eugene Bayle, in which there is a record o f both his letters
and his journal until his death in April 1915. While his journals contained much that
could have shocked or dispirited his audience back home, his letters excised anything
33 La Vague, 2 May, 1918 and AN F/12/8023. The italics indicate the censored text. For more detail
on what was likely to be censored see Maurice Rajsfus, La Censure, militaire etpoliciere (1914-1918).
Paris: le cherche midi editeur (1999). The vast majority o f censored material referred to the conduct o f
the war. The R.A.T or Reserve de I ’armee territoriale referred to in the text were those who had
returned to civilian life after becoming too old for active service.
34 Fran^oise Navet-Bouron, “Censure et dessin de presse en France pendant la GrandeGuerre” in
Guerres mondiales et conflits contemporains 197 (March 2000) p. 9
35 Navet-Bouron, “Censure et dessin de presse” p. 10, p. 16 The main themes thatcartoons were
censored on were neutrals, peace, life at the front, profiteers and shirkers, pp. 15-16
14
liable to cause concern, his primary motivation for writing home was to reassure.36
Nevertheless they are still an important source, as are the journals kept by certain
soldiers. These documents can be analysed both as overt statements o f belief, but also
for the implicit assumptions o f gender and race that underpinned them. They can
allow us to examine the thinking o f soldiers who often claimed to be ignored by the
rest of society. This is particularly significant given that some soldiers contended that
the war had allowed them to see beyond the mendacities o f civilian life and
understand the world as it was. Jean Marot advanced this argument: “La vie civile
est un vaste champ clos ou luttent des interets ... Aussi le mensonge triomphe. Nous
sommes detaches de tous les interets anterieurs ... Pourquoi mentir?”37
A variety o f official documents have been consulted. A large number o f Committees
and Sub-Committees o f Economic Action were created in late 1915 to look after the
regions o f France and suggest ways in which they could better respond to the
challenges posed by the war. These committees were presided over by the prefect of
the department in which the committee is sited, and were composed o f the political,
commercial and agricultural elites o f the regions. Each region was denoted by a
•>o
number.
The reports made by the committees and their recommendations - or lack
thereof, on some issues - are often very revealing of their attitudes. For example, their
suggestions for how to solve the problem o f an insufficient workforce was regularly
to call for more reservists or German prisoners, but very rarely to call for immigrant
labour, or greater use o f women. There is not a comparable source for the views of the
working classes, whose attitudes must be understood through the prism of police
reports o f trade union meetings and activities. In these reports the police would make
claims about the attitudes o f the workers, but these may not always offer an entirely
accurate representation; the police would clearly bring their own preconceptions to
bear as well. Not only this but the very presence (or suspected presence) of police
36 Remy Cazals and Frederic Rousseau, 14-18, le cri d'une generation. Toulouse: Editions Privat
(2001) p. 22. See also Martha Hanna, “A Republic o f Letters: The Epistolary Tradition in France
during World War I.” in The American H istorical Review 108-5 (2003) for an arguement that letters
were often honest and unguarded.
37 Jean Marot, Ceux qui vivent (1919). Quoted in Jean Norton Cru, Temoins. Nancy: Presses
Universitaires de Nancy (1993) p. 451.
38 Regions 1 and 2 were in the occupied North East, the others were centered respectively in 3 Rouen,
4 Le Mans, 5 Orleans, 6 Chalons, 7 Besan9on, 8 Bourges, 9 Tours, 10 Rennes, 11 Nantes, 12 Limoges,
13 Clermont-Ferrand, 14 Lyon, 15 Marseille, 16 Montpellier, 17 Toulouse, 18 Bordeaux, 19 Paris, 20
15
informers may have influenced what was said. At a meeting of the Syndicat du
Personnel des Etablissements militares de Lyon, in front o f a crowd of 50 people,
including both men and women, the presiding speaker, M. Croisille declared that he
found it abnormal to see women making shells while their brothers and husbands
were sent to the carnage. He was immediately called to order by various people,
including the secretary. He excused himself, claiming that his thoughts had been
exceeded by his words. It is difficult to tell whether what caused Croisille to retract
his words was fear o f police action, or fear o f offending his audience. The police
noted that Croisille had particularly radical views.39
One o f the potential sources on gender perceptions that have not been used to a
significant degree in this thesis is the fictional literature o f the period. In part this is
due to the fact that Mary Louise Roberts has already made an excellent study of this
area.40 It is also because the literature o f the time was very Paris-centred, which it will
be argued was a special case in terms o f behaviour and perceived behaviour. There is
not so large a body o f fiction dealing with themes relating to race and nationality, but
a number o f books appeared at the time on the various peoples that France was
encountering on its soil, often for the first time, during the war. Some were scientific,
some popular and they provide an excellent source for understanding received ideas
about race.
In all o f these sources, viewpoints conveyed in direct references to women and
foreigners tell only part o f the story. Their absence can also be crucially important.
One o f the key arguments that underpin this thesis is that the resilience o f traditional
thinking is shown not just in the instances where gender and race are referred to in
conventional ways, but in the multiplicity o f situations in which those assumptions
were not stated because there seemed no need to restate them. Where categories are
held as normative, then the existence o f a large number o f discussions about them even when they restate the traditional position - suggests the presence of an overt
Troyes, 21 Chaumont.
39 AN F/7/13365 13 June, 1917.
40 Mary Louise Roberts, Civilization Without Sexes, Reconstructing Gender in Postwar France,
1917-1927. Chicago: University o f Chicago Press (1994) See also Susan B. Grayzel, Woman’s
Identities at War: Gender, Motherhood and Politics in Britain and France, 1914-1919, Chapel Hill:
University o f North Carolina Press (1999).
16
challenge towards those categories. The paucity o f such references is the clearest sign
of the strength o f those normative assumptions. Clearly, categories as fundamental to
French society as gender and race would never be invisible at a time of great
upheaval - and the years o f the First World War certainly were, even if they are far
from unique in being seen as such by their contemporaries - yet the vast majority of
texts produced during the war exhibited little sign o f uncertainty over such core
concepts.
The first chapter o f this thesis examines French popular and scientific views of race
as a category and o f other races more generally. It describes how each race was seen
to have differing innate characteristics and sometimes these varied dramatically.
Nonetheless, there were several themes that recurred in discourses dealing with
practically all non-white races. Principal amongst these was an element o f childlike
nature, a reliance on emotion and instinct rather than the rational behaviour of white
men. It also focuses on the issue o f immigration, which the war made an important
issue in public policy. It suggests that the ways in which people o f different races
were utilised and portrayed in the war was defined by pre-existing discourses, and
that responses towards the behaviour o f non-whites in France were conditioned
through those existing ideas. Received wisdom about other races could be
manipulated to serve the case the writer wished to make. The perceived ferocity o f
Black African troops could be situated in the positive context o f terrifying the
Germans; for example a caricature depicted a German prisoner fearing being eaten by
a black soldier. The soldier responded: “N ’aie pas peur. Li sauvage mais Li ne mange
que des choses propres”.41 This ferocity could also be portrayed negatively, as a threat
to French women left defenceless by their husbands’ absence. It is argued that this
flexibility o f usage and the omnipresence o f traditional concepts in the discourses of
the participation o f non-white peoples during the war prevented any significant
alteration o f attitudes towards them.
The second chapter focuses on the various white foreigners living in France during
the period o f the war, whether as immigrant workers, refugees, allies or invaders. It
41 Guy Pedroncini, “Allocution introductive” in Claude Carlier, Guy Pedroncini (eds.) Les Troupes
coloniales dans la Grande Guerre Paris: Institut d’Histoire des Conflits Contemporains (1997) p. 19.
17
argues that each nation’s inhabitants were held to have different collective
characteristics and that these differences were ascribed to racial factors within that
nation as much as to cultural influences. The ways in which French discourse on
nationality differed from its discourse on race is examined, as well as the similarities
and connections between the two. Again it argues that, despite the radically different
ways in which France interacted with its fellow nations during the war, these
interactions were interpreted within the limitations of pre-conflict conceptions of
those nations. J. B. Masse, the founding director o f “L’Aide-Assureur de France”,
arguing in favour o f life insurance, spoke o f how the Germans had introduced it “pour
elever le niveau social de sa population et pour mieux preparer celle-ci a dominer le
monde entier.” Meanwhile he praised how the Americans had introduced the measure
for “tous ses soldats et marins combattant aux cotes de notres pour la civilisation et le
Droit de Nations.”42 Thus the German decision is seen within the context o f its
militarism as a preparation for future expansionist wars, while the American one is
described as indicative o f their commitment to civilisation.
The third chapter discusses the impact o f the conflict on ideas about women and their
place in society. It considers the extent o f the division between the home front and the
trenches and how far this division resulted in shifts in gender perceptions. While the
division between those who fought at the front and those who did not was real and
significant, it will be argued that the primary way in which this division was felt and
expressed was not between “masculine” and “feminine” but through a rhetoric where
what counted was the degree o f suffering that the war had imposed. Clearly the
soldiers were the ones who were held to have suffered the most, but widows, the
orphaned, and refugees were also privileged in this interpretation. Those widowed by
the war often took prominent positions in activities commemorating the war. On the
other side o f the divide were those held to be profiting from the war. This definition
was very broad and could cover a wide range o f individuals depending on the
situation. These might include those believed to be shirking their duty to fight, those
making money out o f the war, those using the war to indulge in illicit sexual
behaviour, and those who visibly enjoyed themselves, seemingly indifferent to the
suffering o f others. While women were often placed amongst those who constituted
42 J. B. Masse, Notice des assurances sur la vie et retraites de I ’etat (1918) p. 1.
18
these categories, it was rarely exclusively their province. Furthermore, when women
were criticised for taking advantage o f the war, or not taking it seriously enough, the
criticism followed traditional lines. The similarities with pre- and post-war discourse
are clear, and most wartime observations on female behaviour succeeded in placing
that behaviour within accepted conceptions o f what was normal.
This chapter will also address the issues o f commemoration and the birth-rate, two
vital areas o f post-war debate that have been posited as both the source and site of
reactionary activities towards feminism. Commemoration was significant because it
was a key way in which the memory o f the war was officially formalised. Daniel
Sherman argues that French authorities used commemoration as a crucial part of
attempts to re-impose traditional ideas after they had been challenged in the upheaval
o f the war and in particular to emphasise the pre-eminent role o f masculine heroism.43
While
Sherman is
convincing that this influenced the manner in which
commemoration occurred, this thesis suggests that it was only one o f several such
influences and was by no means the dominant one. The issue o f natality and
depopulation was seen as vitally important in the wake o f the colossal casualties
inflicted on the French armed forces during the war. A vast number o f solutions were
offered as to how to increase the birth rate. This variety o f opinion meant that no
consensus was achieved on how to address the problem and what action was taken
was largely ineffective.
The fourth chapter focuses on how women and foreigners were seen in the context of
the workplace, and what effect the changes wrought by war in the French economy
had on this. This chapter will also examine how the work carried out by women and
foreigners during the war influenced broader views o f their nature, their abilities and
the positions they could or should occupy in French society. It will argue that the
utilisation o f these groups was firmly rooted in pre-war conceptions o f their
capabilities and qualities.44 For immigrant labour in particular, this meant that they
43 Daniel J. Sherman, “Monuments, Mourning and Masculinity in France after World War One” in
Gender and History 8-1 (1996) pp. 82-107.
44 Laura Downs has argued that in the metalworking industries o f France and Britain there were some
radical changes in the jobs undertaken by women but that these changes were described in a
conservative manner which masked the potentially revolutionary changes that ocurred. Downs,
Manufacturing Inequality.
19
were rarely trusted in any area o f employment except low skilled, low paid work
under French supervision. Fears over differing customs ensured that colonial workers
were usually kept together, away from the French population as much as possible.
French women were granted more opportunities in employment, although traditional
forms o f employment still predominated. There were also significant changes in
French working practices associated with the modernisation and mechanisation of the
economy, with a consequent reordering o f jobs undertaken by both men and women,
that had begun before the war but accelerated during the conflict. This changed
conditions did little to alter existing conceptions of women’s abilities however.
Instead their work was interpreted within the constraints o f a pre-war discourse that
was flexible enough to allow a broader range o f work as “women’s work” while
maintaining a clear division between that and “men’s work” with different attributes
and skills being essential for both. Where women were held to have performed well
in a job, that work was viewed as being either not being skilled or based on traditional
home-making skills. When such an interpretation was untenable then women were
held to have been at best an adequate stopgap while men were unavailable.
Throughout the war, debates over how to solve the problems over workforce
shortages were predicated on the assumption that it was much more desirable to
employ French men than foreigners or women.
In general the issues o f whether the war actually resulted in a change in the position
in society o f men and women, French and foreign, lies outside the scope o f this study.
It simply seeks to assess people’s attitudes towards gender and race.
20
CHAPTER 1 - The Racial Other
The First World War saw an unprecedented number of foreigners on French soil, and
from a diverse background. There were German invaders in the North East and
prisoners o f war in the rest o f the country, Belgian refugees, immigrant workers,
colonial soldiers and allied armies.
While only the Germans were actively and consistently loathed, all o f the others
provoked resentment or unease at some level amongst the French public. In some
ways, they provided an acceptable outlet for discontent that could not be directed at
the French. It was politically difficult to criticise the behaviour of the poilus, so
instead the population could decry the conduct of the Allied troops. Other foreigners
could be portrayed as profiteers at the expense o f the French, seducers of their
women, collaborators with the enemy, or even spies. A Bill presented in 1915
demanded that at the end o f the war an identification card be required for all
foreigners residing in France. This became official policy in April 1917.45 At the start
of the war, the prefect o f the Savoie felt impelled to criticise “Une campagne odieuse
[qui] est menee par l’Allemagne, dans certains milieux de notre beau departement:
elle va jusqu’a pretendre ‘que les Suisses sont vendus a L’Allemagne’”.46
The return o f demobilised troops, to find foreigners in their jobs led to some
outbreaks o f xenophobia. One o f the more prominent reactions was that of
unemployed workers in the hotel industry who organised themselves into the Union
des combattants de l’industrie hoteliere and participated in street demonstrations.
According to Schor, they argued that it was “dangereux d’abandonner le controle
d’une activite importante a des meteques; ces demiers ne prendraient jamais en
compte les interets de la France et risquaient de transformer les hotels en officines
d’espionnage.47
45 Noiriel, The French Melting Pot, p. 61.
46 AN F/7/12939, 8 August, 1914.
47 Ralph Schor, L ’Opinion Frangaise et les Etrangers, 1919-1939. Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne
(1985) p. 80.
21
Foreigners had not, o f course, been regarded favourably before the war.
G. Dallier wrote in 1914
Will we always be able to impose our customs, our civilization, in a word our label, on the invaders?
Will assimilation go smoothly? Unmistakeable symptoms seem to indicate that we are reaching a point
of saturation. ... Our customs are becoming exotic, our language is becoming overcome by foreign
terms, even our security is threatened by dangerous elements who are attracted by our wealth and
whom our lenient laws do not frighten.48
Jean-Jacques Becker provides two examples o f reports on the harvest of 1914. A
schoolmaster in the Isere declared,
There were signs o f remarkable dedication: young lads aged 15 to 20, young girls taking off their
aprons and putting aside the needlework they had begun, resolutely took up their sickles and lent a
hand to the women left alone with their young children. “There’s a war on!” people said. The job was
not badly done, and, moreover, without the help o f foreign labour which the prefecture had placed at
the disposal o f those who asked for it.49
The prefect o f Lot boasted that “[...] several mayors assured me that the harvest will
be brought in and the next prepared without the help of strangers.”50
In both
examples, and particularly in the first, the primary sentiment is pride that the
community has managed on its own. However, both also make it clear that foreign
labour was unwelcome, and would be avoided wherever possible. This was
exacerbated during the war by the greater likelihood that the foreign presence would
be from outside Europe. The negative feelings that the French may have felt towards
Belgian, Italian or Spanish workers were very different to their suspicions o f non­
white immigrants.
The racial superiority o f the white peoples was taken as practically a given in France
at the start o f the twentieth century. The Tour de la France par deux enfants is
perhaps the most well known schoolbook from the Third Republic, read by children
48 G. Dallier, quoted in Gerard Noiriel, The French Melting Pot, p. 189.
49 Jean-Jacques Becker, The Great War and the French People. New York: St Martins (1986) pp. 1516.
22
across France. It featured an illustration that depicted four races o f man - white, red,
yellow, and black. The white race is described as “la plus parfaite des races
humaines.”51 This assertion took its lead from prominent scientific arguments. In his
book La Selecion humaine from 1919, the eminent physiologist Charles Richet
dismissed the achievements o f black people. “L’architecture negre, ce sont les
paillotes, la peintures negre, ce sont les dessins informes dont ils ont bariole leurs
guitars... Les dimensions du crane et les formes du cerveaux les rapprochent des
singes.”52
Richet elaborated on his own scale o f the human races:
Nous mettrons resolument tout au bas de l’echelle hierarchique des races humaines la race noire,
incapable de penser et d’innover, impuissante a se constituer en nation, puis au-dessus d’eux, et tres
loin d’eux, la race jaune, peu inventive, peu creatrice, mais brave, laborieuse, apte a une assimilation
rapide; et enfin, tout a fait au-dessus des deux-races, la race blanche, qui a tout fait dans le monde
actuel, qui a cree une organisation savante, invente des milliers d’industries, asservi la matiere et
l’animal a ses volontes; conquerante, par la science, de tout notre planete.53
In the medical debates which sought to set out racial hierarchies, the two primary
manners in which racial inferiority was expressed were savagery and infantilism.54
These ideas were common currency throughout France, and many writers
unquestioningly spoke o f inferior races.
The racial scientist Dr Berillon wrote a book Les Caracteres Nationaux; Leurs
facteurs biologiques et psychologiques that came out in 1920.55 It sought to
systematise the presumed behavioural differences between people from different
nations and o f different colour into a scientific theory.
50 Becker, The Great War p. 16.
51 Laurent Gervereau, “L’exotisme” in Nicolas Bancel; Pascal Blanchard; Laurent Gerverau (eds.)
Images et Colonies: Iconographie et propagande coloniale sur I ’Afrique franqaise de 1880 a 1962
Nanterre: BDIC-ACHAC (1993) p. 40.
52 Anne Carol, Histoire de I ’Eugenisme en France; Les medecins et la procreation XlXe-XXe siecle.
Paris: Seuil (1995) p. 138.
53 Carol, Histoire de I ’Eugenisme en France, pp. 138-139.
54 Carol, Histoire de I ’Eugenisme en France, p. 138.
55 Dr. Berillon, Les Caracteres Nationaux; Leurs facteurs biologiques et psychologiques. Paris:
23
Ce qu’on designe ffequemment sous le nom d ’ame de la race, c’est la constitution d’un systeme tres
stable de sentiments, de besoins, d’aptitudes intellectuelles, d’instincts representant l’heritage d’un
long passe. Ces tendances d’ordinaire dissimulees sous la mince couche du vemis superficiel dont les
decorent les regimes politiques et les conventions, se retrouvent chez tous les individus de meme race.
[...] La race [...] est l’ensemble des individus semblables, appartenant a une meme espece, ayant re?u
et transmettant par voie de generation sexuelle, les caracteres identiques.56
For Berillon, races were formed through biological inheritance rather than cultural
ones. He rejected the idea that nations were a product o f a mixture of races, arguing
that the war had provided ample evidence that each nation had its own innate racial
characteristics.
Une des opinions les plus communement admises c ’est que la plupart des nations ne sont que des
melanges de races, les diverses races constituantes s’etant fondues en une race mixte ou metisse. Or,
les evenements lies a la guerre dont nous sommes les temoins, viennent justement nous apporter la
demonstration du contraire. [...] Elies proclament au nom de leurs differences ethniques, de leurs
mceurs, de leurs besoins, de la purete de leur sang, de leurs caracteres specifiques, qu’il leur serait
desormais impossible de vivre dans une communaute de gouvemement et d’interets avec les races
voisines.57
The war had displayed then that not only were the characteristics of each individual
nation different but that they were also incompatible. Whatever similarities might
appear on the surface, Berillon argued, the key element o f the racial personality came
from the “milieu interieur”: “Car la personnalite des differentes races n’est pas
seulement constitute par des caracteres exterieurs, elle resulte surtout de la
composition du milieu interieur.” Berillon assumed his readers would know of this
difference between White and Black races but he stressed that it applied equally
between the French and German races.
co
Berillon argued that it should not be assumed that years of immigrants entering
France had undermined the purity o f French blood or undermined the natural
characteristics o f the race. This was because
Am£dee Legrand (1920)
56 Berillon, Les Caracteres Nationaux, pp. 4-5.
57 Berillon, Les Caracteres Nationaux, p. 5.
58 Berillon, Les Caracteres Nationaux, p. 7.
24
la conception de races humaines metissees est en contradiction avec les lois de la biologie. Apres
quelques generations, toute trace de metissage a disparu et les individus peuvent tous etre envisages
comme etant de race pure ou tout au moins en voie de retour vers l’etat de purete.
Again he noted that this breeding out o f “metissage” occurred in all instances. “Ces
faits ne s’appliquent pas seulement aux croisements des races tres differentes de
coloration, mais a ceux des races blanches.”59
By this formulation Berillon managed to argue both for the purity o f French blood
and for the ability to assimilate limited numbers o f foreigners without sacrificing it.60
However, this did not mean that Berillon was sanguine about the prospects of inter­
racial sexual relations, which he considered to be unnatural. “Seule une denaturation
de 1’instinct peut expliquer le fait d’une alliance entre deux individus de race
differente.”61 Significantly, he believed that while men might be tempted by women
from different races, the obstacle to such relationships came from women.
[L]es femmes normales repugnent a toute alliance avec un individu d’une autre race. C’est que la
femme semble dotee a un degre plus eleve que l’homme de cette sorte d’intuition revelatrice du danger
qu’on pourrait designer sous le nom de sens de I ’ennemi.62
Once again, Berillon argues that different races are inherently antagonistic, and places
women as guardians o f the purity o f the race. When French women did have sexual
encounters with foreigners then, they were not only performing an unnatural act, but
also undermining their race and their nation. He is also evidently drawing on longestablished ideas over sexual behaviour in which men were unable to control their
sexual urges and society had to rely on the chastity of women to preserve order. Yet
women’s restraint is ascribed to an instinctual sense of danger rather than rational
thought.
59
60
61
62
Berillon, Les Caracteres Nationaux, p. 17.
This conception was also present in the debates over immigration, see pp.281-288.
Berillon, Les Caracteres Nationaux, p. 18.
Berillon, Les Caracteres Nationaux, p. 19. Emphasis in the original.
25
It is an over-simplification; however, to assume that the scientific arguments o f the
period were what determined popular conceptions of race and ideas of French racial
superiority. As Neil MacMaster argues, racism is not “a phenomenon derived from an
autonomous and somehow ‘objective5 sphere o f scientific investigation and theory.55
Scientists were as much a product o f the mores o f their societies as anyone else.
The development o f racial ideology did not stem from the impact o f science and ideas, but rather the
reverse: race science was invariably structured as an expression o f underlying preoccupations, whether
stemming from class position, nationalism, colonialism, economic crisis, or other considerations.64
Instead race science has to be seen as just one more way in which the French racial
ideologies were expressed, with the scientists in turn reinforcing those ideologies with
the “evidence55 they produced o f eternal racial hierarchies. One example of this is Dr
Henri-Etienne Templier5s explanation for the high rate o f pneumonia among Black
soldiers. He notes that medical and anecdotal evidence confirms the laziness of West
Africans, and then suggests that this made them incapable o f performing the hard
labour required o f them. This unaccustomed overwork, along with differences in
climate, then resulted in the outbreaks o f pneumonia.
D’apres les medecins et les officiers coloniaux, les noirs de PAfrique Occidentale Frangaise sont des
etres generalement paresseux et indolents. [...] Recrutes peut-etre un peu hativement, rassembles en
convois et souvent obliges de faire de tres longues marches pour arriver au lieu d’embarquement, nos
nouveaux tirailleurs furent sans doute vite surmenes; nous eumes des lors nos premiers cas de
pneumonie en Afrique meme. [...] Puis vint Pembarquement, la traversee generalement penible, ne
serait-ce que par sa duree, et enfin Parriv6e dans notre pays dont le climat est tout differente de celui
de PAfrique Occidentale.65
Racial science was also diverse and flexible enough to be used to support a variety of
colonial ideologies. Ostensibly the two major theories of colonial practice, those of
assimilation and association, were incompatible. Assimilation presumed that French
policy towards her colonial subjects should be based upon the exportation of French
customs and attitudes until those subjects could be reborn as French citizens, while
63 MacMaster, Racism in Europe, p. 7.
64 MacMaster, Racism in Europe, p. 7.
65 Henri-Etienne Templier, Observations etiologiques, cliniques, pronostiques et therapeutiques sur la
pneumonie des noirs de I ’Afrique occidentale frangaise au camp du Courneau. These pour la doctorat
26
association argued that it was better to respect indigenous traditions and seek to
develop each colony according to its own individual character. In practice however
the vast time that it was believed was required before non-white colonials could
successfully assimilate, plus the practical desire for the colonies to contribute to the
metropole as soon as possible, meant that the application o f the two policies was well
nigh indistinguishable. As Alec Hargreaves has argued on the emergence o f the
doctrine o f association at the turn o f the century to challenge the theory of
assimilation:
Although association rapidly gained widespread support in colonial circles, it should not be imagined
that this doctrinal change brought about a shift in colonial practice. On the contrary, it simply provided
ideological confirmation o f the non-assimilationist nature o f existing policies, around which it wove a
new set o f myths in place o f the old.66
The pre-war ideas o f other races were largely based on hearsay and reports back from
those who had travelled abroad. Few non-whites had arrived in mainland France
itself, except in a few major or coastal towns. How would the population respond to
their first physical encounters with the racial other? This chapter seeks to address the
question o f how contact with people o f different colour affected the racial thinking of
ordinary French men and women. However, it also has to be recognised that,
particularly outside the major cities, the everyday contact between the French and
those of other races usually remained minimal, primarily because the French
government made strenuous efforts to keep colonial contingents separate from the
metropolitan population. French attitudes thus continued to be strongly influenced by
books focusing on the French empire and its subjects. For this reason, this chapter
also examines a variety o f works that highlighted French racial thinking in respect to
her colonies during the era o f the war.
If foreign men were present in significant numbers on French soil and could be
encountered on a regular basis by the domestic population, the same cannot be said of
foreign women. They were unrepresented amongst prisoners o f war, and hardly
en medicine, Bordeaux: imprimerie de l’Academie et des facultes (1917) p. 16.
66 Alec G. Hargreaves, The Colonial Experience in French Fiction: A Study o f Pierre Loti, Ernest
Psichari and Pierre Mille, London: MacMillan (1981) p. 13.
27
represented in the armies o f France’s allies. Very few were recruited to work in the
economy. Instead foreign women continued to appear to the French largely through
their representation in print. The depiction o f foreign women in the newspapers was
used in two different, but not necessarily contradictory fashions. Most commonly,
they were used as an example o f what could befall French women should they lose
sight o f their true calling. The fact that the sole female US deputy burst into tears
while casting her vote on the entry o f the US into the war drew from La Petite
Gironde the response... “Vous voyez bien que la femme est dominee par sa sensibilite
et ses nerfs au point de ne pouvoir prendre une resolution...”.67 Camille Ferri-Pisani
condemned American women for measuring men’s worth only in monetary terms. All
that she sought was marriage, whereupon the man was forced to work all day to buy
the woman cars, a fine house, a yacht and so forth. However, what made American
women differ from “Latin” women was not racial factors but cultural ones “la girl
n’eprouve jamais ce besoin d’etre protegee et de se sacrificier, besoin qui cree la
douceur et le devouement de nos femmes latines.”
so
In an article entitled “Elies vont
parler!” the fact that British women had been granted the right to preach in Anglican
churches was commented on, and linked to female suffrage.
Le droit de vote pour les femmes, ce sera le droit a la parole publique. Mais sur quels sujets? Sur les
interets de l’Etat, la defense du pays, la prosperity financiere et industrielle. Sans doute ces questions
ne sont pas negligeables. Mais elles n’ont pas pour les dames l’importance des questions morales. Sur
ce domaine, la femme est bien chez elle, maintenant. En lui dormant les cles de l’6glise et la droit au
preche, les eveques anglaises realisent les plus chers de ses desirs: faire la le?on aux autres,
gourmander et condamner au nom du Ciel.69
Here, the conduct o f foreign women is seen as an example o f what could happen in
France. The behaviour o f women in more “exotic” societies by contrast was not seen
as having any relevance to the women o f France. Instead, their actions were merely
used to illustrate the exoticism o f their society. Occasionally there were reports on the
“amazones” serving in the Russian army.
70
The exploits o f these women were
67 La Petite Gironde, 15 April, 1917.
68 Camille Ferri-Pisani, L ’Interet et I ’ideal des Etats-Unis dans la guerre mondiale, Paris: Perrin
(1918), pp. 147-8, p. 154.
69 La Petite Gironde, 23 August, 1916.
70 e.g. La Petite Gironde, 6 October, 1919.
28
recounted admiringly. They were considered heroic and worthwhile, but there was no
suggestion that French women should act likewise. Indeed differing social norms that
placed women in roles they did not have in French society were considered an
indication o f backwardness. According to General Puyperoux, the relationship
between husband and wife amongst the Kabyles was akin to one between master and
slave, albeit a sweet and courteous slavery.71 Likewise, Dr Templier spoke critically
of the division o f labour in French West Africa.
Du jour ou l’occupation
ffansaise
leur apporta les bienfaits de la civilisation, supprima
Panthropophagie et l’esclavage et mit fin aux querelles de village a village ou de tribu a tribu, pretexte
aux expeditions guerrieres, les noirs vecurent dans une douce oisivete, les femmes s’occupant, comme
par le passe, des travaux penibles.72
Not only were criticisms aimed at African societies for this oppression o f women, but
they could be simultaneously condemned for giving too much influence to women. A
report in 1915, by a committee o f deputies on the Commission de l’Armee, on the
possibility o f recruiting an overseas army noted that “...en Afrique, l’opinion
feminine joue un role plus grand peut-etre encore qu’en Europe dans les decisions des
populations.”73
While the threat that colonial men posed towards French women, either as seducers or
as rapists, was a consistent subtext in French racial discourse, the reverse scenario of
French men having sexual relations with colonial women was largely restricted to
fiction and postcards. Partly this was because the likelihood of such encounters was
slight outside the French metropolis and thus inevitably o f peripheral interest in
political terms. One o f the few writers to address the subject in his account of being a
soldier in Africa, Troupes noires, Premieres cartouches, was Alfred Guignard, but he
played down its incidence.
71 General Puyperoux, La 3me Division Coloniale dans la Grande Guerre (1914-1919) Paris (1920) p.
216.
72 Templier, Observations, p. 16.
73 Marc Michel, L ’Appel a L ’Afrique: Contributions et reactions a Veffort de guerre en A.O.F. (19141919). Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne (1982) p. 75.
29
Car 1’element masculin de notre race blanche jouit, pour la sexe aimable des autres, d’une appetence
singuliere et sans reciprocity qui se manifeste des le debarquement, chez les nouveaux venus, meme
d’age certain, par une curiosity immediate des femmes. Mais celles-ci, y eussent-elles trouve interet,
n’ignoraient pas de quelle bonne raclee leurs seigneurs et maitres presents auraient puni tout ecart
public de conduite. En sorte que les convoitises restaient platoniques et nos gens sur leur faim.74
The absence o f a significant number o f foreign women in France did not mean that
the debates over nationality and race were not significantly gendered. The very
absence o f foreign women increased the perceived threat to the purity of French
womanhood from the incoming men, while the language in which nations and races
were described often contained similar themes to those that characterised the gender
divisions within French society.
The Essential Nature of Non-Whites.
Laurent Gervereau describes well the ways that material aimed at adults portrayed the
non-white world in the years before the war
Mais, apres ce trop court inventaire, nous voyons quel est l’axe principal de l’exotisme - de l’exotisme
afficain - a cette periode: correspondant a une tendance generate des romans, des affiches, des
imageries, des cartes postales, de la presse illustree, a une “exotisation” des representations, violence et
erotisme s ’implantent. Pourtant, c ’est la violence souvent qui prevaut (presse). Elle nous montre une
Afrique sauvage, dangereuse, qui valorise ainsi les conquetes et la necessity de la mission
civilisatrice.75
Nearly all illustrators focused on the same three aspects “la violence, l’erotisme,
l’etrangete.”
Stora-Lamarre describes erotic literature set in the French colonies,
which saw “l’ardent soleil qui provoque des scenes ‘pimentees’ et ‘orgiaques’.
Chaudes saturnales (1893), Promenades en Alexandrie (1907), mettent en scene les
raffinements de 1’Orient, sa luxure, ses voluptes bizarre et cruelles, sa joie sanguinaire
et ses instincts feroces.”
77
Around the turn o f the century, newspapers such as the
74 Alfred Guignard, Troupes noires, Premieres cartouches. Paris: A Fayard (1915) pp. 44-45.
75 Gervereau, “L’exotisme” p.39 See also J. Nederveen Pieterse, White on Black: Images o f Africa and
Blacks in Western Popular Culture, New York: Yale University Press (1995) pp. 159-163 for a more
positive description o f French attitudes, which puts a greater emphasis on eroticism.
76 Gervereau, “L’exotisme” p. 39.
77 Annie Stora-Lamarre, “Plaisirs Interdits: L’Enfer de la Bibliotheque Nationale” in Pascal Ory (ed.)
30
Petit Journal, the Petit Parisien and L ’A ssiette au Beurre depicted the cruelty of the
foreigner with depictions o f Moroccans callously exhibiting the heads of prisoners on
70
stakes or o f a criminal being walled up in a cell to die.
The extremely pro-colonial
newspaper Le Petit Marseillais published several articles in 1914 highlighting
peculiar behaviour in other civilisations. One light-hearted article mocked the
Chinese for not only arranging marriages before those involved were old enough to
marry but before they were even bom: “les Chinois, toujours extraordinaires, ont
imagine le mariage avant la naissance des maries.” Another, entitled “Justice
Indigene”, commented on the primitive ways in which justice was done in indigenous
communities in West Africa.
70
Laure Barbizet-Namer argues that when African troops were depicted in the French
imagery o f the war, black Africans were used in much greater numbers than Arabic
o rv
North Africans.
Indeed in all the representations of non-whites in France during the
war, blacks were the most common. This did not correlate with the absolute numbers
o f foreigners in France, so it seems more likely that they provided the most obvious
signifier o f the otherness o f colonial men.
The picture o f the black race that was painted in the newspapers o f the period was a
largely sympathetic one. If there was no mistaking the condescension and the natural
assumption o f superiority o f the white authors, they generally depicted blacks as
courageous and kind hearted. Censorship must have played some part in this. In
December 1914, the War Ministry criticised a censor who had allowed the
publication o f an article in La Gazette du Haut-Jura detailing the “sauvagerie
marocaine” o f certain colonial troops.81 While newspapers still represent a useful
source, it must be noted that the censor may have restricted some o f the more
potentially unfavourable opinions towards those foreigners brought into France.
La Censure en France a I ’ere democratique (1848-...). Brussels: Editions Complexe (1997) p. 50.
78 Gervereau, “L’exotisme”, pp. 28-31 Pictures from 1897-1906.
79 Le Petit Marseillais, 5 January, 1914, 6 June, 1914.
80 Laure Barbizet-Namer “Ombres et lumieres portees sur les Africains: peintures, gravures,
illustrations, cartes postales.” in Nicolas Bancel; Pascal Blanchard; Laurent Gerverau (eds.) Images et
Colonies: Iconographie et propagande coloniale sur I ’A frique ffancaise de 1880 a 1962, Nanterre:
BDIC-ACHAC (1993) p. 92.
81 Rajsfus, La Censure, p. 37; La Gazette de la Haut-Jura, 5 December, 1914.
31
In the Petite Gironde, a story narrated how, in a colonial outpost in Timbuktu, the
white officers had been celebrating Christmas. The captain recounted to the tirailleurs
the story o f the Nativity, via an interpreter: “un gigantesque noir qui etait decore de la
Legion d’honneur”. It was a largely conventional narrative, but with several
interjections such as “Cette naissance eut lieu, il y a tres longtemps, dans un village
plus lointain que Gao, plus lointain que Zinder” because, presumably, the audience
were considered unable to understand such complex concepts as great distance if they
were not related to their own geography. The captain also recounted a selection of the
miracles performed by Jesus, in addition suggesting “il aurait meme retrouve la petite
fille du caporal Koulibali, quit fut enlevee cet ete par les Beribaches.” Later on this
corporal goes off searching for Jesus in the expectation that he would be able to
return his daughter.
This story illustrates several o f the recurring themes in portrayal
of black colonials. They are often o f exceptional physique - the interpreter is gigantic.
In many respects they are like children - the life of Jesus is recounted as if it were a
school class; the misunderstanding o f Corporal Koulibali is childlike. Yet they are
also heroic - the interpreter has the Legion d’honneur, and caring - the corporal is
deeply concerned for his daughter. Similarly the tale of “Le Tirailleur Kaddour”
portrays Kaddour as a model soldier, with the medaille militaire and the Croix de
Guerre, who nevertheless is generally a figure of fun because of his inability to speak
proper French.83
This preconception is also present in more serious pieces o f work. Alphonse Seche in
his 1919 book Les Noirs argued that “les peuples jeunes ayant precisement ces traits
propres a la jeunesse: naivete, ignorance qui s’etonne, generosite, enthousiasme du
coeur, crainte et bravoure conjuguees.”84 Leon Gaillet wrote a book about a
Senegalese soldier called Coulibaly, implicitly portraying him as a representative
Senegalese man, highlighted by the popularity of the name Coulibaly in Western
•
Africa.
oc
Reviewed in La Petite Gironde, Gaillet’s analysis was accepted as an
accurate one. The reviewer recommended the book “puisqu’il fait bien connaitre une
82 La Petite Gironde, 3 January, 1917.
83 La Petite Gironde, 14 February, 1917. The kidnapping also highlights the barbarism o f African
society.
84 Seche, Les Noirs, p. 50.
85 Coulibaly was actually General Mangin’s personal bodyguard, and thus distinctly unrepresentative.
32
o/
race qui est venue meler son sang au notre sur les champs de bataille d’Europe”.
This sentence underlines the fundamental point for the French in regard to foreign
soldiers, that the act o f fighting for France outweighed whatever defects their race or
lack o f civilisation entailed. The Petit Marseillais review of Gaillet’s book on
“soldats a Tame primitive” also viewed it favourably, saying it had the “saveur de la
verite”.87
Gaillet described the evolution o f the relationship between him and Coulibaly.
Avant de vivre avec Coulibaly, je ne me sentais guere attire vers lui que par un sentiment de curiosite.
Quand je fiis verse aux bataillions senegalais, je manquais d’enthousiasme. Oblige d’etre constamment
en contact avec lui, j ’eprouvais a son egard de la repugnance... Entre cette humanite a l’etat d’enfance
et notre civilisation beaucoup trop complexe pour elle, l’ecart me semblait trop grand. Peu a peu, sans
m’en rendre bien compte moi-meme, j ’ai commence a connaitre plus exactement Coulibaly et a
eprouver pour lui quelque sympathie. II me semblait aussi sentir la mienne... Parti avec lui sur la
Somme, nous avons ete exposes aux memes dangers... J’ai vu couleur son sang, (sic) et je me suis
rendu compte qu’il savait mourir pour la France... Ma sympathie s’accroit chaque jour pour lui et me
permet de mieux le comprendre.88
It is noticeable that Gaillet does not reverse his judgement that Coulibaly is a
representative o f humanity in a state o f infancy, merely that his willingness to fight
and possibly die for France demonstrated his positive qualities. The Petit Marseillais
made a similar point, emphasising that contact with black soldiers merely was to find
out the qualities that accompanied their defects. “Ces noirs lui paraissaient niais ou
meme stupides, maladifs, lents, geignards, ridiculement superstitieux. Mais a vivre
avec eux, il revint de ses opinions precon9ues; a cote de leurs defauts, il constata leurs
qualites”.89
Gaillet also explicitly described Coulibaly as childlike. “Coulibaly pense, parle, agit
comme un enfant.”90 In addition, “Tintelligence abstraite fait evidemment defaut a ce
Senegalais, qui est incapable d’isoler leurs rapports des choses elles-memes, et son
86 La Petite Gironde, 6
87 Le Petit Marseillais,
88 La Petite Gironde, 6
89 Le Petit Marseillais,
90 La Petite Gironde, 6
January, 1918.
19 December, 1917.
January, 1918.
19 December, 1917.
January, 1918.
33
intelligence pratique est assez limitee”.91 This lack of civilisation did not just imply
innocence amongst the Senegalese; it could also have a darker side, when they were
subject to malign influences. “Coulibaly est impressionnable. II peut se decourager ou
se depraver facilement.”
The argument that a people who rely on instinct rather than
on abstract intelligence can be too easily swayed into error illustrates another way in
which views o f non-whites could parallell those of women. Because of the limited
intelligence and gullibility o f the Senegalese, Gaillet concluded with “un hommage
aux officiers coloniaux qui ont su gagner les Senegalais a notre cause.”93 Again, this
phrasing places the Senegalese as childlike, their destinies in the hands of the white
colonial officers.
Similarly, when a group o f colonial troops successfully defended their position under
fire, they were praised by the Petite Gironde for their indomitable bravery. However,
the account reserved most o f the credit for the French sub-lieutenant who commanded
them: “il manifesta, durant toute Tattaque, un admirable sang-froid et une maitrise
absolue de lui-meme, dirigeant les operations avec un flegme qui donnait confiance
aux soldats.”94 The distinction between French cold-blooded, rational bravery and the
instinctive, impetuous bravery o f their colonial troops was a regular staple of the
discourse on their relative performance.
The naivety and childlike nature o f blacks was repeated time and time again. When
the recruitment o f black troops was being discussed, “Le caractere generalement gai,
voire enfantin, des noirs...” was noted.95 General Puyperoux commented on how the
colonial troops under his command were never upset by the regular movement that
the unit was forced to undertake, because they were “grands enfants” who liked travel
and change.96 The comte de Briey, describing a mission to Africa, noted the proverb...
‘“Apres le roi, rien n’est superieur a la vache’ et disait que bien d’autres formulaires
temoignent dans leur naivete de la meme estime des Ruandiens pour les betes a
91
92
93
94
95
96
La Petite Gironde, 6 January, 1918.
Le Petit Marseillais, 19 December, 1917.
La Petite Gironde, 6 January, 1918.
La Petite Gironde, 9 July, 1918.
La Petite Gironde, 19 August, 1918.
Puyperoux, La 3me Division Coloniale p. 45.
34
07
comes.”
William Ponty, the Governor General in Dakar from 1908 to 1914, saw the
relationship between colonisers and colonised as that between tutor and ward, but put
a less favourable spin on the relationship by characterising the ward as “a sometimes
shifty, often crude and even cruel ward.” Nevertheless, Ponty believed that the
QQ
Africans could be won over by ‘apprivoisement\
Guignard in the foreword to his
book claimed that “Le noir n’a point invente cet instrument simple, la roue, ni,
QQ
partant, la route qui l’utilise.”
Some o f the ideas used in teaching Senegalese
soldiers French were based on the assumption that the soldiers would not be able to
come to terms with the complexities o f proper French, and that it would have to be
taught utilising the grammar and syntax o f the “dialectes primitifs de notre A.O.F.”100
A still less positive association saw black people as savage. A journalist in La
Bataille described “les Africains, grands, forts, qui ont un je ne sais quoi de sauvage,
de candide, de bonasse et de terrible.”101 La Bataille also reviewed La race
chamitique by Theodore Vibert. This book attempted a history o f the black race and
“conclut originalement a la necessite de la domination de la race de Sem sur celle de
Cham, celle-ci ‘vaste agglomeration de bestiaux humains’ ne pouvant que gagner en
dignite, en moralite et en liberte a etre aux ordres de celle-la.”102 This view was
dismissed out o f hand by La Bataille, but nevertheless must have held some currency
amongst white Frenchmen.
It was generally held that the act o f fighting for la mere patrie absolved black
newcomers from the defects o f their race. Conversely this meant that when they were
not seen as doing their duty in the trenches, that hostility towards them was much
more overt.
The Senegalese presence in Pau provoked this response:
97 La Petite Gironde, 2 April, 1919.
98 Alice L. Conklin, A Mission to Civilize; the Republican Idea o f Empire in France and West Africa,
1895-1930 Stanford: Stanford University Press (1997) pp. 109-110.
99 Guignard, Troupes noires, p. 7.
100 Michel, L ’Appel a L ’Afrique, pp. 372-373.
101 La Bataille, 17 July, 1916.
102 La Bataille, 16 January, 1916.
35
Quand nos braves soldats b^amais, dont la vaillance et l’endurance ont fait l’admiration de tous,
viennent en permission, ils trouvent leur petite maison de paysan occupee par 20 ou 40 negres, leur
femme et leurs filles terrifiees n’osant plus quitter la maison, le vieux pere oblige d’abandonner le
travail des champs pour surveiller le ‘gynecee’. [...] Tous les dimanches et jours de fete, Pau est
encombre de Noirs qui mendient des tickets du pain. [...] Je vois constamment de grands diables
completement ivres soliloquant en titubant, ou rentrant en groupes abrutis ou excites par l’alcool.
Qu’on leur refuse un jour des tickets de pain, ils pilleront les boulangeries et Dieu sait a quels exces
pourront se livrer ces hommes tres doux quand ils sont sobres, mais redoutables des qu’ils sont ivres.
Les villes isolees aux environs du camp et de la ville ne sont plus sures pour femmes et enfants et je
redoute les incidents les plus graves.103
This account makes many important points. The reference to the French soldiers
illustrates the true role o f men in wartime, further stigmatising the blacks that are
employed at the rear. It employs the traditional stereotyped idea of blacks as gentle
men who are fearsome when drunk (when applied to black soldiers, their
fearsomeness is demonstrated in combat). Most noticeable o f all is the sexual unease
that runs throughout the passage. This is all the more striking because there is no
description o f any actual sexual outrage having occurred; merely the presence of
black men is enough to strike fear into the women of Pau.
The twin fears o f drunkenness and sexual misconduct by black men in France were
taken seriously by the authorities. This was set out explicitly in a (post-war) letter to
Madagascans who wished to work in France:
Mais des maintenant, je vous dis que je serai tres content si vous etiez assez sages pour faire des
economies avant votre retour dans votre pays: vous etes bien nourris et vous n’avez pas de depenses a
faire: je vous defends done de boire trop, surtout des liqueurs; je vous defends aussi de frequenter des
femmes dont la vie est mauvaise. Je serai trds fach6 contre celui qui serait ivre et fr^quenterait les
femmes en question: je le renverrai de suite et signalerai sa mauvaise conduite au Gouvemeur
gdn^ral.104
103 Yves Pourcher, La Vie des Franqais au Jour le Jour entre 1914-1918. Paris: Plon (1993), p. 186.
104 Dewitte, Les Mouvements Negres en France, p. 31 (the letter is probably from 1924).
36
In October, 1918, a circular from Louis Loucheur warning against alcoholism in
factories warned directors o f establishments with colonial workers to be particularly
attentive towards drunkenness.105
In an article clearly designed to reassure its readership, L ’Eclair de Midi began with
the usual formulations about “Nos bons noirs” who have “des ames d’enfant,” and
fight bravely for France. Despite their loyalty towards France, their letters home
reveal they are homesick.
Mais a travers les combats [...] ils gardent, indifferents a tout ce qu’ils voient, l’incurable nostalgie de
leur beau pays [...] Ils se preoccupent surtout de leurs femmes, car ils ont plusieurs, et se demandent
ce qu’elles peuvent bien faire pendant cette longue absence du seigneur et maitre. Et ils sont jaloux,
connaissant la vertu un peu frele des beautes noires.106
While this article does highlight the aberrant sexual morality o f blacks, with
polygamy and loose virtue, it asserts that all the soldiers care about is their women
back home, and thus by implication the pure French women are safe from their
attention. The focus on the homesickness amongst the soldiers also reassures the
paper’s readers that the colonial contingent will have no permanent place in French
society. When an alternative approach was taken, the authorities intervened. The
Canard enchaine was censored for a news snippet, ‘Chez les Negres’, which noted
that “on enregistre beaucoup de naissances de negrillons” in one French town.
1f!7
The prospect o f miscegenation was not the only spectre that alarmed the French. In
his medical thesis on the impact o f the war on children in Toulouse, Dr Paul Vemedal
commented that foreigners were particularly affected by syphilis. He pointed out that
the war had brought numerous colonial peoples to the city, Annamites, Kabyles, and
Madagascans and “s’ils ont su apprecier le charme de la Tolousaine, beaucoup de
Toulousaines aussi n’ont pas dedaigne le physique de ces braves travailleurs.”
105 Ministere de la reconsitution industrielle; Direction de la main d’oeuvre; Comite du travail feminin,
Protection et utilisation de la main d'oeuvre feminine dans les usines de la guerre, Paris: Imprimerie
Nationale (1919), p. 105
106 L ’Eclair du Midi, 29 October, 1916.
107 Rajsfus, La Censure, p. 73.
108 Paul Vemedal, L ’Enfant de la Guerre a Toulouse, These pour le doctorate en medecine; Toulouse:
Imprimerie Ouvriere (1919) p. 32
37
At the end o f 1915, Justin Godart, the under-secretary o f state for military health,
warned
female
healthcare
employees
that
they
should
avoid
dangerous
correspondence or giving undue attention to black soldiers. In particular, photos
should be avoided, as they would be passed around arousing “la joie et la derision des
indigenes”. In 1916 it was recommended by the Sante militaire that the Senegalese be
treated in hospitals staffed only by men.109 Alphonse Seche talked indulgently of
nurses and black patients using “tu”, but later on decided that this intimacy had a
negative affect on the colonial population and called for French women to be
withdrawn from hospitals where black troops were treated in order to “re-Senegalese”
them, before they returned home.110 These debates reveal twin fears amongst the
French authorities, not just o f the corruption o f French women by colonial soldiers
but also that such relationships might disturb the racial hierarchies that applied both
in France and her empire.
French attitudes towards Black soldiers are also illuminated by their response to the
fears o f sexual assault aired by the Germans, when French colonial troops were used
in the occupation o f the Rhineland. According to a booklet entitled La Campagne
contre les troupes noires, German opposition focused on outrages committed against
women by Africans; “puisque les negres sont loges dans nos villes et violent les
jeunes filles allemandes dont les cris emplissent les rues”.111 The author of the
document, giving a French response, defended the troops as victims o f a smear
campaign. “D ’autre part, les autorites militaires, pour eviter des incidents ont du
prendre de severes mesures d’ordre aux abords des casernes, ou certaines categories
de femmes allemandes venaient provoquer nos soldats indigenes pour lesquels elles
112
paraissent avoir une predilection marquee.”
While this is ostensibly a defence of
the colonial troops, there is no mistaking the author’s contempt towards the German
women for their attraction to these black men. Albert de Pouvourville made a similar
argument in the Depeche Coloniale on German criticism o f coloured troops.
109 Michel, L ’A ppel a L ’Afrique, p. 389.
110 Seche, Les Noirs p. 235, pp. 255-256.
111 Anon. La Campagne contre les troupes noires, Mayence: G Marechal et Cie (1921) p. 2.
112 La Campagne contre les troupes noires, p. 2.
38
Je crois que leurs femmes et leurs filles, chastes omements des foyers germains, ne partagent ni leur
douleur ni leur apprehension. Je me souviens parfaitement comment ces douces ames echangeaient
portraits et serments avec les negres le plus horrible, mais les mieux batis, que les expositions
universelles envoyaient en Europe: je me souviens des unions libres et des mariages metis et des
enlevements bicolores, et des fureurs policieres, et de l’engouement absolu que les hommes d’Affique
et d’Asie exerfaient, avec toutes consequences, sur les sentimentales Gretchen.113
By sneering at the presumed attraction felt by German women towards black men,
these authors are maintaining a discourse in which sexual relations between white
women and black men is seen as deviant.
An interesting source is Mo ussa et Gi-gla, histoire de deux petits noirs by Sonolet
and Peres, which was published in 1916. Sonolet was a former charge de mission in
French West Africa, while Peres was the director o f a school there. Both therefore
had personal experience o f the French colonial empire. The stated aim o f the book
was to fulfil Waldeck-Rousseau’s dictum “II faut faire evoluer le Noir dans sa propre
mentalite.” Throughout, it aimed to educate black children, its target audience, into
appreciating the French contribution to their country, and to become more civilised.
The plot featured two small boys, one from Sudan, one from Dahomey, who were
thrown together. “Ils deviennent amis, montrant ainsi que, malgre la difference de
souche, de religion, de traditions, ils sont capables de s’elever a une idee de ffatemite
dans la grande famille noire.” Different origins and traditions were apparently no
block to understanding and friendship, thus legitimising French intervention in Africa
while at the same time drawing a boundary between the “famille noire” and its white
counterpart.
The story begins with the first boy, Moussa, who is engaged as a servant by a
Frenchman, M. Richelot. Moussa, who is 13 years old, with intelligent eyes, has a
limitless curiosity about the world, which is explained to him by the kindly,
knowledgeable, paternal figure o f Richelot.114 Moussa’s character can be seen to
personify the potential for blacks under French colonial rule while Richelot embodies
the benign tutelage o f France itself. Also in Richelot’s crew is Baba who can be seen
113 La Depeche Coloniale, 5 November, 1914.
114 Louis Sonolet, A. Peres, Moussa et Gi-gla, histoire de deux petits noirs. Paris: Colin (1916).
39
as an incarnation o f the present state o f development in Africa. Baba is “un grand
gaillard presque aussi fort qu’un taureau”, always hungry and good humoured, and he
tells Moussa that the Niger is so long it goes round the world. Richelot is there to
correct him saying that Baba is “un brave gar?on, mais c’est un ignorant.”115
First they travel to Timbuktu where Moussa talks to Moktar, an interpreter working
for the Administration there. Moussa praises the city, to which Moktar responds that
it is only nice since the French arrived. Before then “La ville etait alors la proie des
feroces Touaregs. Ces pillards, coureurs du desert, etaient nos maitres.” Moussa asks
if all the improvements are due to the French? “Oui, tandis qu’autrefois les Touaregs
et, avant eux, les Marocains et tous nos autres maitres nous pillaient, nous
massacraient ou nous reduisaient en captivite.”116 In addition to displaying their
superiority as governors, the French had ended the slave trade in the region carried
out by “avides et cruels” men, who had been forced to go elsewhere. Later on, when
they reach Dahomey, a similar point is made. It is remarked how much better things
are now than under the kings o f Dahomey, when human sacrifice was common.117
The message is transparent; at least at their present state o f development, Africans are
not capable o f ruling themselves in a civilised manner.
As they continue their travels by boat, the party encounters a hippopotamus. One of
the black crew, Phillipe, impetuously tries to shoot it but can only wound it,
whereupon he panics and runs. Fortunately, Richelot is on hand to pick up the gun
and coolly kill the hippo with a single shot. Richelot explains to Moussa that the
reckless bravery o f Phillipe is useless unless moderated with sang-froid. The
implication that black men have the former and white men the latter is one that
appears regularly in the accounts and imagery o f colonial soldiers fighting in
France.118
Nonetheless, the book does praise black soldiers. A captain o f a unit of tirailleurs tells
Moussa that “De tous ces soldats indigenes, ce sont les Noirs les meilleurs. Ils se
115
116
117
118
Sonolet,
Sonolet,
Sonolet,
Sonolet,
Peres, Moussa
Peres, Moussa
Perds, Moussa
Peres, Moussa
et Gi-gla,
et Gi-gla,
et Gi-gla,
et Gi-gla,
p. 6.
pp. 11-12.
p. 15, p. 30.
p. 17.
40
battent aussi bien que les Fran9ais.” More exotically, there is a tribe of Amazons, who
are described as the bravest in combat in all the country. “Elies s’ela^aient comme
des folles dans la melee et ne pouvaient jamais se resigner a fuir.”119
The message o f the book was neatly summed up when Moussa encountered M
Gilbert, an old teacher o f his, who told him:
II y a, au contraire, avantage pour un Noir a se trouver au service d’un Blanc, parce-que les Blancs sont
plus instruits, plus avances en civilisation que les Noirs et que, grace a eux, ceux-ci peuvent faire des
progres plus rapides, apprendre mieux et plus vite, connaitre plus de choses et devenir un jour des
homines vraiment utiles. De leur cot£, les Noirs rendent service aux Blancs en leur apportant le secours
de leurs bras pour l’execution des travaux de tous genres qu’ils ont entrepris, en cultivant la terre qui
permet d’alimenter le commerce, et aussi en combattant pour la France dans les rangs des troupes
indigenes. Ainsi les deux races s ’associent et travaillent en commun pour la prosperite et le bonheur
j
#
120
de
tous.
Richelot made a similar point, describing science to Moussa, “c ’est Tensemble de
tout ce que l’homme a appris depuis que le monde existe, de tout ce qu’il connait.
Elle est l’ceuvre des Blancs, mais les Noirs peuvent l’etudier et en profiter comme
eux.”
1 *7 1
The relationship between the two races can be mutually beneficial, but it’s
the whites who provide the intelligence and the technology, while blacks can only
offer their labour, with the hope o f one day becoming “hommes vraiment utiles”.
If black people could not compete with Europeans in the realm o f science and
thinking, they were regarded as having great athletic power. Guignard described how
Ils nageaient avec une habilite et une rapidite surprenantes, menant grande bruit pour effrayer l’ennemi
cache sous les eaux et leurs corps elastiques donnaient par leur aisance 1’impression d’une vigueur
souple que nos races n’ont plus au meme degre.” 122
Moussa expressed his admiration on witnessing an Amazon war dance
119
120
121
122
Sonolet, Peres, Moussa et Gi-gla, p.88, pp. 27-28.
Sonolet, Peres, Moussa et Gi-gla, p. 83 (emphasis in the original).
Sonolet, Peres, Moussa et Gi-gla, p. 52.
Guignard, Troupes noires, p. 40.
41
Avec des bonds de panthere, elles frappent la terre rouge de leurs pieds nus, et elles font tourbillonner
leur sabre autour de leur visage qui semble anime par la fureur du combat. [...] Quelle souplesse encore
dans leurs mouvements! Quelles etincelles dans leurs yeux!123
Making an analogy between black people and animals was a staple of white
descriptions o f colonial life. Moussa and Gi-gla encountered a fight between two
powerful black men who “se jettent l’un contre l’autre, ainsi que deux betes
furieuses.”124 In a letter home from his camp in Morocco, a French soldier, Auguste
Calas wrote o f the Senegalese troops that were stationed in his camp that they were
“tout noirs comme des taupes”. Later he commented that black children prefer to
“rester nus comme des chacals”.
The perceived characteristics o f black Africans were not considered to be identical
with those o f other races. An article entitled “Poste Noire” in La Petite Gironde
asserted that
le Public est aujourd’hui familier, surtout dans notre region, avec les differents types de I’armee noire.
II distingue le noir des Antilles, silencieux et doux, correctement habille qui promene sa nostalgie dans
les rues, du Marocain bruyant et agressif, prompt a l’aventure, de l’Algerien et du Tunisien en quete de
gourmandises. Mais nous ne savons rien de la vie interieure, de leur etat d’ame, car ils en ont une, si
primitive et simple soit-elle.126
E. L. Laffranque, a sous-intendant militaire, made a report on the manpower crisis in
France during the conflict. He dismissed Spanish and Moroccans for being too
expensive and offering poor productivity, in inverse relationship to their “everincreasing pretensions”. The Indochinese were too frail to withstand the French
climate. Laffranque believed that the Chinese were the best bet. Laffranque also noted
the well-known phenomenon that colonists brought to France quickly lost the best of
their qualities unless they were taken in hand by employers with sound knowledge of
123 Sonolet, Peres, Moussa et Gi-gla, p. 28.
124 Sonolet, Peres, Moussa et Gi-gla, p. 57.
125 Augustin Calas, L ’album des cartes postales d ’un poilu de la guerre de 14 au Maroc occidental.
Nages: Centre de recherches du patrimoine de Rieumontagne (1998) p. 33, p. 51.
126 La Petite Gironde, 13 Octobre, 1916.
42
their temperament, their customs and, above all, their propensity to succumb to
negative influences.
177
According to the employer testimonies recorded by Georges Mauco, the NorthAfricans were considered particularly poor agricultural workers, while Algerians and
Madagascans were the most mediocre factory workers. The Moroccans and
Indochinese fared best o f the colonial employees.128 Jules Amar, quoted by Laura
Frader, describing the working abilities o f Kabyles and North African Muslims in
1923 argued that they were superior to Arab workers, due to the rapidity o f their
movements. “More nervously constituted, they instinctively tend to work rapidly, and
it is difficult to moderate the swiftness of their [motions].”129 It is notable here that
just as the bravery o f colonial troops was ascribed to instinct beyond the control of
reason, the working abilities o f these colonial workers is similarly devalued. Michel
notes that blacks were considered more suited to war, while the Indochinese
1^0
immigrants were judged the most able at factory work.
Indochinese
Jean Hennessy in L ’CEuvre distinguished between “Les Annamites importes [qui] sont
faibles, impropres a de rudes travaux, mais adroits, les Kabyles [qui] sont de nature
plus robustes; leur arrivee a ete ffequemment approuvee par ceux qui devraient les
employer.”131 In this description it is noticeable how the two races are assigned the
working attributes more commonly ascribed to women and men respectively. The
attribution o f feminine characteristics to Indochinese men was a common one. In
1919, Louis de Launay claimed that “Les Indochinois sont doux, adroits, mais petits,
peu robustes et apathiques. On peut tout au plus les assimiler a de la main-d’oeuvre
feminine.”
1 T7
Similarly, the Comite Consultatif d’action economique of the Lyon
127 AN F/12/8024, 1 February, 1916.
128 quoted in Jean-Charles Bonnet, Les Pouvoirs Publics Frangais et I ’Immigration dans I ’Entre Deux
Guerres. Lyon: Centre d’histoire economique et sociale de la region lyonnaise (1976), p. 122.
129 Laura Levine Frader. “From Muscles to Nerves: Gender, “Race” and the Body at Work in France
1919-1939” in Eileen Boris and Ang^lique Janssens (eds.) Complicating Categories: Gender, Class,
Race and Ethnicity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1999) p. 134.
130 Michel, L 'Appel a L ’Afrique, p. 374.
131 L ’CEuvre, 10 October, 1916.
132 quoted in Schor, L ’Opinion Frangaise et les Etrangers, p. 169.
43
region reported that the region had been short o f workers for some time, with the war
making the situation critical. They believed that colonial workers could prove useful
in filling the gap, as long as they were not expected to do skilled work. However, an
exception was made for the Annamites who “parait-il, s’accoutument tres vite a
i^
certains travaux techniques”.
It is noticeable that it is certain specific techniques
that the worker becomes “accustomed” to. This is very similar to the idea that women
could learn some techniques by repetition, unlike a man, who would learn the craft.
Albert Lebrun, a former Minister o f Colonies speaking at a Conference celebrating
“L’Effort Colonial de la France” praised subjects from the Far East “excellent aux
operations delicates ou l’adresse surtout importe, ayant la douceur necessaire au
maniement des blesses, reussiraient fort bien dans les services sanitaires.”134 Lebrun
here encompasses the whole o f the Far East, not just Indochina into this description,
and the Indochinese were often bracketed together with the Chinese, the other major
nationality from Asia present in France during the war.
The feminine delicacy o f Asian workers was believed to go alongside an inability to
handle heavy masculine labour. A winegrower in the Midi complained that his IndoChinese workers could only be occupied in tasks habitually confined to women “ne
peuvent etre occupes qu’a des travaux confies habituellement a des femmes.”135 A
similar complaint was made about Chinese dockers by the Chef du Transport
Maritime, Dupuy, who argued that
[L]es chinois dont nous disposons peuvent a mon avis etre uniquement employes a travaux legers et
peu varies. Ils sont en outre pour la plupart d’une resistance physique insuffisante pour etre astreints
aux travaux plutot p^nibles auxquels nous avons a faire face. Leur place serait mieux dans une usine ou
le travail est toujours la meme et ou la surveillance est facile...136
Not only does Dupuy disparage their ability to do more than light, repetetive work, he
also implies that they are unreliable workers by highlighting the need for surveillance
133 AN F /12/8004, Comit6 Consultatif d’action economique, 14th region, 15 March, 1916.
134 La Depeche Coloniale et Maritime, 1 July, 1916.
135 AN F/14/11334 Minutes from meeting o f the Conference Interministerielle de la Main d’CEuvre,
17 March, 1917
136 AN F/14/11331 11 April, 1918.
44
o f them. Dupuy’s comments also illustrate that factory work was being classified as
light work, perhaps due to the recent prevalence o f women working in them. L
Chassevent, in his Appel a la main-d’oeuvre etr angere pour I ’agriculture franqaise,
written in 1919, claimed that “La main-d’oeuvre annamite et indochinoise ne merite
pas d’etre preconisee. Cette race est naturellement indolente et le rendement d’un
IT T
Indochinois ne depasse pas les deux tiers de celui d’un Fran9ais.”
The Petit Marseillais described the Indochinese as more “ffileux” than other colonial
1
workers. Another similarity appeared in an officers report from 1920 on the subject
o f Indochinese troops which argued that they “possedent sous une ftele apparence une
resistance a la fatigue insoup9onnee.”
11Q
This was a description often used in analysis
o f women’s contribution to the war effort. It’s possible that the widespread view that
Indochinese men had feminine characteristics arose from a wider discourse that saw
Indochina itself as feminine.140 These similarities in the descriptions o f European
women and Indochinese men did not result in Indochinese women being seen as
equally capable as their men folk. An advertising poster for war bond subscriptions
that was targeted at the colonial population of Indochina portrayed a woman who
“Knowing that her feminine arms are too weak to beat the enemy, [she] is arming
other, more virile limbs by participating in the bond.”141
As soldiers, the Indochinese were not thought to have the same warlike tendencies as
other colonial nations. One officer argued that the Indochinese were more intelligent
than other colonial troops and “parfaitement susceptibles de servir dans les
compagnies de mitrailleuses et d’utiliser le fusil mitrailleur”. They had “un
temperament peu impressionnable [et] leur caractere s’adapte parfaitement a la
defensive” but by comparison “leur capacite offensive est moindre”. This was in
137 quoted in Schor, L ’Opinion Franqaise et les Etr angers, p. 168.
138 Le Petit Marseillais, 24 April, 1916.
139 Emmanuel Bouhier, “Les troupes coloniales d’Indochine” in Claude Carlier and Guy Pedroncini
(eds.) Les Troupes coloniales dans la Grande Guerre. Paris: Institut d’Histoire des Conflits
Contemporains (1997) p. 80.
140 See Penny Edwards “Womanizing Indochina: Fiction, Nation and Cohabitation in Colonial
Cambodia, 1890-1930” in Julia Clancy-Smith and Frances Gouda (eds) Domesticating the Empire:
Race, Gender, and Family Life in French and Dutch Colonialism, Charlottesville: University Press of
Virginia (1998) pp. 108-130.
141 Penny Edwards, “‘Propagender’: Marianne, Joan o f Arc and the Export of French Gender Ideology
to Colonial Cambodia (1863-1954)” in Tony Chafer and Amanda Sackur (eds.) Promoting the Colonial
45
marked contrast to ideas about North and West African troops. This belief was
reflected in the very low casualty rate o f Indochinese troop loss as a percentage of
troops in the field, roughly 2.55.142
The deputy and former minister for war Maurice Rondet-Saint put out a third edition
o f his book Dans notre Empire Jaune in 1917. Although the book had originally been
written before the war, in his introduction to the 1917 edition he made no indication
that the war had resulted in any changes to his view of the people of French
Indochina. He merely apologised for ‘T apparition en leurs heures solennelles et
parfois angoissantes que nous vivons, d’un ouvrage ecrit avant la guerre, a une
epoque ou rien ne la faisait prevoir, ou tout etait a la joie de vivre comme aux
esperances de Tavenir.” From this it can be reasonably assumed that he generally
maintained the opinions expressed in the book.143
The book was much concerned with the characteristics that racial difference bestowed
upon the Indochinese, neatly illustrated by his discussion o f children of mixed
parentage, French fathers and native mothers, apparently a very common occurrence.
The question was whether they should be left in the care of the mother and treated as
any other child growing up in Indochina or whether the father should educate them
into becoming members o f French society with the right o f citizenship.144
Those in favour o f the first option, he said, argued that
Le metis [...] dans un esprit de generalisation a coup sur excessif, a les defauts des deux races et aucune
de leurs qualites. Incorpore a la societe europeenne, il est condamne a y faire figure d’etemel deracine:
sinon a sombrer, du moins a vegeter. [...] La society annamite, au contraire, est, elle, integralement
organisee pour accueillir les metis, l’assimiler et lui procurer finalement le sort le plus heureux. [...] Or,
le metis, eieve par se mere pendant les premieres annees de sa vie, resoit d’elle une profonde et
indeiebile empreinte indigene, alors que celle du pere saurait se faire sentir seulement beaucoup plus
tard, et est, par la meme, condamnee a demeurer secondaire, sinon nulle.145
Idea; Propaganda and Visions o f Empire in France. Basingstoke: Palgrave (2002) p. 120.
142 Bouhier, “Les troupes coloniales d’Indochine” p. 80.
143 Maurice Rondet-Saint, Dans notre Empire Jaune; notes et croquis, Paris: Plon (1917).
144 Rondet-Saint, Dans notre Empire Jaune; p. 15.
46
Interestingly, although the ease o f assimilation is ascribed to Annamite society as a
whole, it seems to be more particularly the individual role o f the mother that enables
the son to grow up as an ordinary member of Annamite society. The profoundly
gendered view o f the issue o f mixed race children is highlighted by the fact that it was
only a cause o f debate when the child was male, if a daughter was bom “la question
ne se pose meme pas, et la retour a la famille indigene est une necessite evidente.”146
The use o f the word retour is noticeable here, signalling that the choice is clearly not
one made by two equal parents, but that the child o f a white father immediately
becomes his responsibility, and it his choice whether to take care o f it himself or to
return it to the care o f the mother. The possibility that both parents could raise the
child is not even debated.
Rondet-Saint then went on to state the case for the children being kept by the father,
an argument he claimed “n’est pas non plus sans force”. This argument was simply
that “Le devoir du pere est [...] d’elever ses enfants metis comme il eut eleve ses
enfants blancs. La chose ne se discute meme pas.” Ultimately he is not able to choose
between the two claims, believing both to be equally defensible.147 This is in some
ways not surprising as the second view does not seek to challenge the assumptions
that underpin the first argument (that mixed race children will not flourish in French
society) but merely grants that consideration lower importance than the prime
requirement that a father should treat all his children equally.
That Rondet-Saint believed that racial characteristics were inherent rather than
capable o f being learnt was further illustrated by his reaction to a hospital for
abandoned children.
J’ai trouve la, au milieu des bambins chinois et annamites, un pauvre petit Blanc de quatre ans [...] Et
comme je demandais si la pauvre gosse souffrait de se trouer ainsi perdu, seul de sa race, dans cet asile
exotique: ‘Non, me dit-on, puisque cet enfant n’a jamais connu autre chose...’ Pauvre petit epave!
J’eus un serrement de cceur. 148
145 Rondet-Saint, Dans notre Empire Jaune; pp. 15-16.
146 Rondet-Saint, Dans notre Empire Jaune; p. 16.
147 Rondet-Saint, Dans notre Empire Jaune; p. 16-17.
47
Rondet-Saint is distressed on behalf o f the lone white child despite being assured that
the boy himself was untroubled by the situation. His language his equally revealing,
characterising the child as the odd one out in an exotic asylum.
Understanding the racial characteristics that made up the Annamite personality was a
preoccupation for Rondet-Saint, and something that he believed was possible, despite
his stated opinion that “L’ame jaune est impenetrable”. He believed that they were
generally competent to undertake most jobs that their colonial masters might require
them to do, apart from financial tasks: “les seules fonctions auxquelles il convient-il
d’affecter 1’Annamite avec circonspection sont celles comportant des maniements de
fonds; la notion du tien et du mien n’etant pas chez lui la qualite dominante, parait-
ii.”149
The general capability o f the Indochinese to perform most jobs did not alter the
essential otherness o f their innate character. He talked to some o f the Europeans who
worked there, asking them if the Annamites appreciated the benefits of European
civilization. A man “fort au courant des choses d’Extreme-Orient” told him “La
reconnaissance n’entre pas dans le caractere du Jaune [...] Pas plus que la pitie,
sentiment que le Jaune ignore absolument.” After an anecdote illustrating the strange
mentality o f the yellow race, the author concluded by saying that the pretension of
certain ideologues to “assimiler a nos fa£ons de voir et de juger les choses, des
hommes dont la cerebralite est si loin de la notre? Risible utopie.”150 Moreover, “Le
caractere de 1’Annamite, si pusillanime devant le danger dans certains cas, est, a cote
de cela et par une contradiction absolument inexplicable, d’une passivite, d’une
indifference extraordinaire devant la mort ou la douleur.” Not only that but, “cette
insensibilite, cette meconnaissance de toute pitie, le Jaune l’entend aux animaux.”151
It is noticeable that while the Annamite as described by Rondet-Saint differs in
several ways from the traditional image of black colonials, it also offers an
explanation for any bravery shown in combat that differentiates it from that shown by
French soldiers. While the French are portrayed as being aware o f the risks of war,
148
149
150
151
Rondet-Saint,
Rondet-Saint,
Rondet-Saint,
Rondet-Saint,
Dans
Dans
Dans
Dans
notre Empire Jaune; p.
notre Empire Jaune; p.
notre Empire Jaune; p.
notre Empire Jaune; p.
52.
48, p. 37.
51.
277, p. 279.
48
but heroically facing them anyway, blacks are often portrayed as being utterly
reckless to the danger o f war. The indifference to death of the Annamites as described
by Rondet-Saint is similar to the latter as being based more on irrationality than
reason, though the alleged pusillanimity o f the Indochinese when faced with danger
clearly separates them. The Indochinese attitude to death also made an impression on
the French population during the war. In November 1915, one Laure L. wrote a letter
to the front on the subject.
A Castres nous avons beaucoup d’annamites qui nous font bien rire surtout lorsque un de leurs meurt,
ils portent sur la tombe un verre rempli de vin ou liqueur la bouteille pleine, des cigares, des gateaux et
des allumettes puis allument des bougies et ils croient que c ’est le mort qui a pris tout 9a...152
North Africans
The largest numbers o f non-white foreigners in France came from North Africa.
While they were often regarded as sharing similar characteristics, sometimes
distinctions were made between the character o f Algerians, Kabyles, Moroccans and
Tunisians. For Pradier and Besson:
Chaque race a ses qualites propres et si l’Algerien est un peu plus pres de notre civilisation, s’il connait
mieux notre langue, il offre moins de robustesse que le Marocain et est moins serieux que lui au
travail. Le Tunisien est plus faible que les autres travailleurs, mais, par contre, d’un esprit ouvert, et
capable de se transformer en ouvrier conducteur d’auto, mecanicien, metallurgiste. 153
Attitudes towards the significant Algerian population in Marseille were generally
hostile. Assessing the situation, a French magistrate condemned the Arabs who had
come to France as “presque tout des hommes grossiers, cupides, insolents, n’ayant de
notre civilisation qu’une notion des plus vagues.” They were irrevocably cut off from
French civilization by “la langue qu’elle parle, ses moeurs et son genre de vie”.154
152 Gerard Baconnier, Andre Minet, Louis Soler, La Plume au Fusil; les poilus au Midi a trovers leur
correspondance Toulouse: Privat (1985) p. 333.
153 Pierre Perreau Pradier and Maurice Besson, L 'Afrique du N ord et la Guerre, Paris: Alcan (1918) p.
116.
154 Pourcher, La Vie des Frangais, p. 178.
49
Algerians, stereotypically, were “crasseux et mal habille”.155 This low regard was
mirrored in Brest which had a large North African population. They were badly
received, being seen as competition for the French workers. In addition, the sexual
morality o f North Africans was considered lacking. “D ’autre part ils sont vite entres
en contact avec les prostituees les plus degradees de la ville et leurs souteneurs.”
There were regular instances o f brawls on racial lines, usually from the starting point
o f quarrels over women.156 This antipathy was reflected in two news stories that
appeared in L ’Ouest-Eclair on 3 February 1918, focusing on unruly behaviour by
colonial workers. The first item was entitled “Encore un Sidi” and the second
“Toujours les Sidis” and both described brawls developing on racial lines. In both
instances the fault was entirely apportioned to the Africans, with the latter also
1<7
commenting that the Africans were “ivre comme de coutume”.
An article in the
Petite Gironde entitled “Le Galant Marocain” described how a Moroccan had
attempted to celebrate the New Year by kissing an unwilling Frenchwoman, resulting
in a melee. Two Moroccans were arrested.158 Contact between Algerians and female
nursing staff caused considerable concern to the national authorities who, in June
1916, forbade female hospital personnel in infirmaries restricted to Maghrebians.159
Even this measure was not found to be sufficient to maintain proper behaviour
between white women and colonial males. A report on the effects o f the war on
“Kabylie” in 1919 argued that they were “manque de reserve vis-a-vis des femmes
ffan9aises”. Another argued that they had “malheuresement trop souvent laisees aller
a des entrainements pemicieux”.160
James Cooke’s study o f Colonel Paul Azan and his advocacy of the development of a
North African army also offers evidence o f this. Cooke argues that “Azan’s concepts
o f the North African never really changed between his 1903 essay and the publication
o f L ’A rmee indigene nord-africaine in 1925”161 Azan advocated that this army should
155 Gilbert Meynier, L ’A lgerie Revelee; La guerre de 1914-1918 et le premier quart du XXe siecle.
Geneva: Libraire Droz (1981) p. 469.
156 Pourcher, La Vie des Francois, p. 180, p. 183.
157 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 3 February, 1918.
158 La Petite Gironde, 7 January, 1918.
159 Meynier, L ’A lgerie Revelee, pp. 438-439.
160 Genevieve Massard-Guilbaud, Des Algeriens a Lyon; De la Grande Guerre au Front Populaire.
Paris: L’Harmattan (1995) p. 54.
161 James J. Cooke, “Paul Azan and L'Armee Indigene Nord-Africaine” in Military Affairs, 45-3.
50
be stationed in North-Africa and the Levant to keep them away from European
women o f loose morals.162
Although French descriptions o f North Africans did not tend to focus on their naivity
and childlike behaviour to the same extent as descriptions o f Sub-Saharan Africans,
this theme was not totally absent. Andre Lichtenberg, speaking at a conference on
Morocco, offered anecdotes o f the credulity o f the native population to amuse his
audience, such as the sight o f huge crowds o f natives watching the cinema in
delighted astonishment, even through storms o f rain and hail. He claimed that, for the
Moroccans, cinema was something miraculous that only Allah could have created.163
A pamphlet complaining about the treatment o f Catholicism in the French governing
o f Algeria by Pierre Gael is also illustrative o f attitudes towards French colonial
subjects in North Africa.164 While Gael wrote as a Catholic, he argued that the
degrading treatment (as he saw it) o f Catholicism compared to Islam in Algeria was a
matter for all right thinking Frenchmen, regardless o f their religious conviction. “Je
prie les hommes de bonne foi, croyants ou incroyants, mais ayant le sentiment de
l’honneur national,”165 This was the case because “En abaissant leur culte devant
celui des Arabes vous portez atteinte au prestige de la France.” He asserted that the
freemasons (whom he held responsible for the law) knew that but would prefer to see
France perish before they would relinquish their hatred for Catholicism.166
Not only did Gael lament the “desir de favoriser le peuple conquis et de le mettre,
religieusement parlant, au-dessus du peuple conquerant,” he also extended his critique
to architecture. He believed that public buildings consistently favoured Arabic
architecture over a French style o f building, particularly after Charles Jonnart became
Governor o f Algeria. “Depuis que M. Jonnart occupe les fonctions de Gouvemeur
general, on ne construit plus une seule ecole sans donner exterieurement la forme
(1981) p. 133.
162 Cooke, “Paul Azan and L'Armee Indigene Nord-Africaine” pp. 134-135.
163 Le Moniteur du Puy-de-Dome, 28 January, 1917.
164 Pierre Gael, Une Honte, P. Payan: Oran (1908).
165 Gael, Une Honte p. 5.
166 Gael, Une Honte, p. 7.
51
d’une medersa ou d’une zaoui'a.” His grievances were regularly summed up by the cri
de coeur. “on ne sait plus si on est dans une colonie fran9aise ou en Arabie.”167
Gael feared that these concessions would not warm the Arab population to French
rule, but rather display to them the weakness o f the French position and incite them to
revolt. “Les indigenes, qui sont des etres simples, mais logiques [...] les Arabes ont la
confiance inderacinable de nous jeter a la mer et de reconquerir leur independance.
C’est pour eux une question de temps.”
1 AR
Gael sought to cloak his assumption o f French racial superiority in a rhetoric of
equality: “En admettant que les Arabes, quoique vaincu, soient autant que nous, ils ne
doivent pas etre plus que nous.”169 However, his disdain for the “simple” Arabs was
clear, and his desire for French interest to retain primacy was displayed most vividly
in his concluding sentence. “Mais n’est-il pas monstrueux de voir les croyants
ffan9ais traites dans leur pays comme des etrangers, alors que les Arabes sont
favorises comme s’ils etaient les vrais enfants de la maison!”170 Here he clearly
argues that the French, by right o f conquest, have the moral legitimacy to act as they
wish.
A. de Vichet made a similar assertion that Islam was favoured over Catholicism in an
article on the French government’s decision to provide funds for hotels to be built to
allow pilgrims to stay at Medina and Mecca. Although de Vichet thought that it was
reasonable for “musulmans, qui donnent en ce moment leur sang pour la France,
l’accomplissement d’un voeu pieux...” he questioned how this fitted in with the
state’s declared policy o f neutrality towards religion. He claimed that the government
often used this to oppose the demands o f Catholics, but that it was not the first time
171
the government had given their support to Muslims.
Examples o f this favouritism
included the building o f a mosque in Nogent-sur-Seine, cooking pork free food for a
hospital for North Africans and other Muslims, and releasing a circular detailing what
167 Gael, Une Honte,
168 Gael, Une Honte,
169 Gael, Une Honte,
170 Gael, Une Honte,
171 L ’Eclair du Midi,
p. 5, p. 9.p. 8.
pp. 23-24.
p. 26.
p. 29.
6 January, 1916.
52
rites were to be performed for a dying Muslim. It was claimed that these favours
would never be offered towards Catholics. The main target of the article was anti­
clericals and the government rather than Muslims though.172
Stovall notes that despite the “unprecedented presence of Muslims on French soil,
however, religion does not seem to have played a role in the racial violence of World
War I.”
17T
_ .
This does not mean that Muslims were necessarily seen as in any way
equal. In the summer o f 1916, J. de Morgan, the foreign expert of the L ’Eclair du
Midi wrote that Arabic Muslims were able to appreciate the enlightened methods of
their colonial masters, but left to rule themselves then they would be unable to make
commensurate progress.
Aujourd’hui, dans les pays islamiques soumis aux puissances europeennes, chretiens, juifs,
musulmans, pa'fens, vivent sur le pied d’egalite, sans froissement pour leurs consciences et pour leur
amour-propre. C’est un resultat qui jamais n’eut ete obtenu si les musulmans avaient conserve leur
autorite politique.174
This was the case despite the relatively benign judgement he made on the nature of
the Arab.
De tous les musulmans, l’Arabe est celui qui possede au plus haut degre le respect de lui-meme,
1’amour pour les traditions, le sentiment de l’importance et de la valeur d’Islam. C’est un grand
seigneur, reflechi, conscient de sa noblesse et respectueux de celle des autres; c’est la moins barbare de
tous les barbares.175
The development o f the war did not affect his opinion, which he restated in similar
terms 15 months later.
Certes, les Musulmans qui vivent sous la regime gouvemmental des Anglais, des Fran9ais, des Italiens,
des Hollandais, comprenant les avantages d’une administration liberate et bienveillante, ont modifie
leur maniere de voire antan et se montrent loyalistes envers les gouvemments qui leur accordent plus
172 L ’Eclair du Midi, 6 January, 1916.
173 Stovall, “The Color Line Behind The Lines”, p. 740 n. 14.
174 L ’Eclair du Midi, 23 Juin, 1916.
175 L ’Eclair du Midi, 23 Juin, 1916.
53
meme qu’aucun khalife ou sultan ne leur a jamais donne; mais les autres! ceux qui sont demeures, soit
sous la joug de maitres de leur race...176
The Lyon Republicain did not denounce Islam directly, but in a news story on claims
that the Austrians were arming Muslims in Albania, it implied a belief in the intrinsic
barbarism o f Muslims. “Ces elements auraient ete formes en bandes qui ont re?u le
mandat de massacrer les populations chretiennes au premier signe d’insoumission.”177
In Pradier and Besson’s book on North Africa and the war they argued in favour o f
association rather than assimilation on the basis that Islam had made to deep an
impression on Africa to ever allow racial differences to be eliminated. They quoted
Jonnart approvingly when he warned that the best policy “est celle qui se garde de
dedaigner les differences profondes des moeurs et des races, qui a soin de faire etat de
Tempreinte ineffa9able de la loi coranique sur le sol afficain,” but to have different
178
races living side by side through their shared interests.
La Depeche claimed that Islam “est plus favorablement accueilli par des cerveaux
sauvages ou barbares que le christianisme.” The newspaper then went on to make the
customary link between savagery, barbarism and bravery by asserting that “la plupart
des hommes convertis a Tislamisme sont braves.” Prominent examples o f this
included the Algerians and Moroccans as well as the black Muslim troops in France’s
colonial army.179 So pervasive was the link between being brave and being primitive
amongst non-whites that any commendations on the bravery o f colonial troops act as
a reminder o f their barbarism.
One useful source for a French reaction to North Africans is the series o f postcards
sent back from Morocco by Auguste Calas, who was stationed there for the duration
of the war. For the first few months they are largely illustrations o f the picturesque
nature o f Moroccan society, without much evidence at all o f a French presence there.
There is no implication o f the population being barbarous, merely showing some
176 L ’Eclair du Midi, 25 September, 1917.
177 Lyon Republicain, 15 January, 1917.
178 Pradier and Besson, L ’Afrique du N ord et la Guerre, p. 13.
179 La Depeche, 14 January, 1917.
54
backwardness.
180
rp
•
There was only one instance o f the erotic, a young Moroccan
woman with her breasts exposed, simply titled “Jeune Marocaine” with the
implication presumably that this is a normal outfit.181 As Calas was sending the
postcards back to his wife, there may be a simple explanation as to why there were
not more examples o f the erotic portrayal o f the colonial world. Calas seemed
primarily concerned with the exoticism o f Moroccan society. A depiction o f some
musicians was accompanied by the comment “C’est la gaite des Marocaines”.
Another depicted Moroccan Spahis. Calas described them thus. “Ils sont de forts
cavaliers. II y a plaisir a les voir galoper a travers le bled sauvage, ils sont forts pour
faire la fantasia.. .”182
As the duration o f Calas’ posting increased, more hostility emerged in his comments.
“La semaine demiere on a fusille un marocain qui avait assassine des marocains
soumis. On ne rigole pas avec eux. On rend la justice seance tenante.”
As we saw
earlier French discourse condemned barbaric Moroccan methods o f punishment, but
it clearly allowed for the French themselves to dispense summary justice because it
was the only way to deal with the native population.
Accompanying a card showing a Moroccan family with a large number o f children,
several mothers and the father o f the family, Calas reflected critically upon them to
his young son “Done tu peux voir Olivier qu’il vaut mieux etre a Premian qu’ici dans
ce pays de sauvages.” An encounter with the Zai'ns, who had not been pacified by the
French, provoked more criticism. “[N]ous sommes chez les Zai'ns qui sont plus
sauvages que les autres car ils sont dans les montagnes. Ils ne travaillent pas de tout,
aussi leurs habitudes sont d’aller piller ceux de le plaine qui travaillent.” By contrast,
those who had been subject to French influence in the towns were much better off:
“On voit tout le tour des soubassements des murs gamis de briques vemies de toutes
les couleurs. Leurs tables basses sont bien sculptees, les verres sont d’un pur cristal
tres beau.”184
180 Calas, L ’album
181 Calas, L ’album
182 Calas, L ’album
183 Calas, L ’album
184 Calas, L ’album
des
des
des
des
des
cartes postales.
cartes postales p. 26.
cartes postales pp. 30-31.
cartes postales p. 33.
cartes postales p. 35.
55
Ultimately however, the base nature o f the Arab population was the conclusion that
Calas came away with. “[I]Is sont sauvages dans leur mceurs. II faut le voir pour le
croire.”185
These views clearly made an impact on his son, and he learnt from a letter from his
wife that “le petit Olivier n’aimait pas voir les visages des Marocains sauvages,”.
Calas responded that this card was different because “sur cette carte, ils ne sont pas
les memes, on peut voir sur les poitrines les medailles qu’ils ont su gagner au service
de la France.” In another instance he sent a card where “tu peux voir ce beau cavalier
marocain qui s’est bien battu contre les Bodies”.186 Once again, service to France
cloaked foreign inferiority, it did not remove it.
The letters written home by Algerians resident in France tend to suggest that the
response they received was dependent on factors beyond simply their race. Gilbert
Meynier argues that “la plus grande partie des lettres en arabe provenant du Nord de
la France sont tres critiques sur les Fran9ais, les sentiments exprimes par celles ecrites
187
dans le Midi sont plus favorables ou nuancees”. In her study o f Algerians in Lyon
Genevieve Massard-Guilbaud claims that postal censorship suggested that letters
written home in French “tendent a presenter la France comme le pays de cocagne.” In
contrast, those written in Arabic commented on “la vie dure, le mepris des Fran9ais,
trahissent la nostalgie du pays et vont jusqu’a suggerer a leur compatriotes l’evasion
en cas de requisition”.
This confirms the regional differences in French attitudes,
where the North was more hostile towards immigrants o f different races than the
South. It also suggests that, unsurprisingly, those Algerians who were fluent in
French were happier in French society.
185 Calas, L ’album des cartes postales p. 26.
186 Calas, L ’album des cartes postales p. 52, p. 66.
187 Meynier, L ’Algerie Revelee, p. 473.
188 Massard-Guilbaud, Des Algeriens a Lyon, p. 49.
56
The Ottoman Empire
The Turks, as both non-whites and enemies, were always likely to be portrayed
unfavourably in France. Allegations about the sale o f children by the Turks led the
Depeche to comment that “Les Turcs, on le voit, sont dignes des Boches. Leur ame
bestiale, leurs instincts depraves, tout concourt a faire des une et des autres des freres
dans la crime et des allies dans la destruction.”189
In L ’Eclair du Midi, J de Morgan highlighted the shared mentality that linked
France’s enemies.
Allemands, Hongrois, Bulgares et Turcs, malgre les differences de race, de langage, et de religion qui
les separent, possedent tous les meme mentalite, meprisant le droit d’autrui, basant ce qu’ils nomment
la justice sur la force seule. [...] Le Turc est un nomade, un cruel, un egoi'ste. Toujours il a ete
sanguinaire, meme avant de se convertir a l’Islam. Le pillage et le meurtre sont dans l’essence meme
de sa race.190
For de Morgan, the inherent nature o f the Turks was clearly unchanging and brutal.
By pairing nomadism with cruelty and egotism he reinforced the popular link
between savagery and lack o f civilisation, as well as Islam. Revealingly, de Morgan
was able to brush aside any trappings o f civilisation that lengthy contact with Europe
might have presented to the Turks as an elaborate fa9ade.
Depuis bientot deux siecles, les dirigeantes ottomans se sont adoucis, civilises, en apparence. Ils ont
adopte superficiellement des usages europ£ens, ont sacrifie les preceptes memes de leur religion,
mangeant du pore, buvant du vin et de l’eau de vie, plaisantant des vieux usages, mais jamais
n’attaquant leur religion, comme font les libre-penseurs de chez nous. C’est que, dans l’ame de ce
peuple, la mahometisme est aussi vivace qu’aux premier jours, c ’est que le Turc fait de ses croyances
un instrument. [...] J’ai connu dans ma vie beaucoup de Turcs, gens le plus souvent charmants,
distingues et tres fins, d’une habilit^ extreme dans la dissimulation; mais malgre le soin qu’ils
mettaient a cacher le fond de leur pensee, il etait cependant aise de voir qu’ils etaient toujours
demeures les bandits d’Alp-Asian, et que le contact des Europeens n’avait eu sur eux aucun effet
profond.191
189 La Depeche, 28 October, 1915.
190 L 'Eclair du Midi, 27 May, 1917.
191 L'Eclair du Midi, 27 May, 1917.
57
That two centuries o f seemingly civilised behaviour with benign European influence
was not enough to raise the Turks up from being savage bandits at heart,
demonstrates the extent to which perceived racial characteristics were difficult to
shift. If every European custom adopted by a non-European power could be seen as
simply “superficial”, while civilised behaviour was merely evidence of dissimulation,
then their backwardness was almost inescapable. In L ’Ouest-Eclair, Eugene Le
Breton acknowledged the historical achievements o f the Ottomans by admitting that
the Turks are “la seule race noble de TOrient” but that did not prevent him from
arguing that “Ils ne se sont pas adaptes a notre civilisation. Ils n’ont rien fait pour le
10'}
developpement de 1’esprit humain.”
Even amongst the enemies o f civilisation, the natural rule o f white racial pre­
eminence over non-whites was held to be true. The Germans were portrayed as the
dominant partner, with the Turks subservient. When Turkish atrocities were
committed; the French press was quick to note that this must have been with the
support o f the Germans. A supposed Turkish massacre o f Christians in Syria was
claimed by the Petit Marseillais to be with the “consentment tacite et la complicity de
TAllemagne et de l’Autriche.” A few months later it argued “la barbarie turque
obeissent a la barbarie allemande.”
1Q 7
*
L ’Ouest-Eclair described the Turkish emperor
as nothing more than the humble vassal o f his German counterpart while for the
Paris-Centre, Enver Pacha was a “disciple effroyablement pittoresque de la kultur
germanique, melee a la barbarie orientale.”194 La Depeche Coloniale's analysis of the
Turkish mentality gives an indication as to why the Turkish people could be easily led
by the malign influence o f the Germans, arguing that “le peuple turc est patient
jusqu’a indolence, denue de tout esprit critique, fataliste et volontiers fanatique”.195
For centuries, the Ottoman Empire had closely interacted with Europe, but the last
two quotations in particular sought to place it firmly into the non-European,
uncivilized world.
The Paris-Centre’’s description o f Pacha as picturesque
emphasised the Turks exoticism, while the Depeche Coloniale's description could
192 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 24 April, 1917.
193 Le Petit Marseillais, 2 July, 1916, 15 September, 1915.
194 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 3 May, 1917. Paris-Centre, 9 February, 1916.
195 La Depeche Coloniale, 21 September, 1915.
58
have been levelled at any non-white people o f the time, so characteristic was it of
French views o f other races as lazy and irrational.
The Petit Marseillais took this argument to its obvious conclusion in an article
heralding the end o f the Ottoman Empire and recommending that the Turks become
the latest people to be brought towards civilisation by a Christian power.
Au surplus, les Turcs de race, qui demeurent quelques millions, mais non la majority dans l’Empire du
Croissant, seront les premiers a se rejouir de la destruction de leur propre existence politique [...] Ce
sont des pacifiques, pour la plupart, des indolents qu’une doctrine nefaste a frappes de decheance. Ils
constituent une sorte de peuple-mineur, que les chretiens n’auront pas de mal a conduire, pourvu qu’ils
s’appliquent a respecter ses croyances.196
Colonial Soldiers
Some constants in attitudes to all the ethnic and racial groups were apparent, and are
well illustrated in an article in the Petite Gironde on regiments made up o f a range o f
nationalities including many colonial troops, but also volunteers from Poland,
Holland and Switzerland amongst others. These foreign soldiers were of course
heroic and fearless; “Ils vivent l’heure presente, ils blaguent la mort, les obus, la
mitraille, et ils en ont le droit [...] La mort c ’est rien pour eux, la gloire est tout” but
also exotic: “Le meme de tirailleurs est aujourd’hui campe dans un decor de verdure,
et nous donne le spectacle des danses arabes de moeurs marocaines et d’un mariage
kabyle.” Most crucially o f all, they were childlike. “Le general et les officiers sont
pour les hommes non des chefs, mais des parents a qui Ton obeit aveuglement, et
c’est veritablement pour tous la grande famille”
197
The same descriptions occurred time and time again in descriptions o f colonial troops
throughout the war. On the 6th o f September 1914 the Petit Marseillais quoted
Colonel Baratier offering an instructive story about an African soldier. Volunteers
196 Le Petit Marseillais, 12 March, 1916.
197 La Petite Gironde, 12 July, 1917. The description o f the fearlessness and desire for glory is similar
to that o f the descriptions o f French soldiers at the beginning o f the war, but would have been a very
unusual account by the summer o f 1917.
59
had been demanded for a reconnaissance trip and naturally several bravely came
forward. The soldier chosen to undertake the task was Baba Toure. He had just
declared that it was safe to advance, when he spotted an ambush. Faced with this,
Toure chose to sacrifice himself to save his comrades. “Tout a l’heure, les ennemis
s’empareront de lui, le mutileront: qu’importe! Son officier est averti.” Despite this
warning, Toure’s lieutenant ordered an advance. Seeing this Toure summoned up his
last energy to cry “Avancez pas, y en a sauvages!”198 In 1915 the same newspaper
printed a story in an article entitled “Nos Braves Senegalais” which they argued
“revele tout entiere l’ame a la fois naive et Here de nos braves tirailleurs
senegalais.”
199
•
In 1917 an article on a Moroccan division returned to the same
themes, that death was nothing to them; glory was everything; that their officers were
like their parents and were blindly obeyed while their letters illustrated their
naivety.200 There is a remarkable consistency o f language and theme throughout the
years o f the war.
The inferiority o f the inhabitants o f the French colonies was not denied by those who
advocated their participation in the French Army. Instead they argued that these
limitations did not impair their martial value. Indeed, as has already been argued,
being primitive and unsophisticated was seen as practically a guarantee o f bravery. In
1911, Captain Marceau described troops from various tribes in Africa. The
Toucouleur was “un guerrier d’essence”, “un soldat de vocation qui ne se plie
malheuresement pas toujours de bonne grace a notre discipline militaire.” The
Bambara, who “n’eclaire malheureusement pas une tres vive intelligence, limitee a la
comprension d’idees simples et concretes”, were neverthless highly regarded as
warriors. 201
Gustave Mercier wrote in the Revue de Paris about the Algerian who “est un soldat
dans Fame. II a pu s’ignorer, paisible ouvrir, terrassier ou khammes (metayer): la
198 Le Petit M arseillais, 6 September, 1914, The description o f France’s enemies as “savages” by
France’s colonial soldiers is an issue we shall return to later.
199 Le Petit Marseillais, 5 September, 1915.
200 Le Petit Marseillais, 12 July, 1917.
201 Hans-Jurgen LUsenbrink. “Les troupes coloniales dans la guerre: presences, imaginaires et
representations.” in Nicolas Bancel; Pascal Blanchard; Laurent Gerverau (eds.) Images et Colonies:
Iconographie et propagande coloniale sur I ’Afrique franqaise de 1880 a 1962, Nanterre: BDIC-
60
guerre, en eclatant, a reveille chez lui des instincts ataviques, des forces
909
endormies.”
The Petit Marseillais also believed that the atavism of African troops
was the basis for their good performance, arguing in an article on Madagascans that
recruited amongst the most robust sections o f their population they are “par atavisme
sans doute, des marcheurs infatigables”.203
According to Stovall, “The widespread antagonism towards colonial workers
contrasts sharply with the reception accorded colonial soldiers. Roughly 600,000
soldiers from the empire fought in France during the war. Like colonial workers, they
were generally segregated from French civilians and sent home as soon after the war
as possible. Yet the reaction o f civilians to them was much more positive.”204
Certainly, the portrayal o f colonial soldiers in the press tended to be positive. An
article entitled “Pour les Troupes coloniales”, following the announcement o f a day
honouring the contribution o f the colonial armies, noted the bravery shown by the
troops. It also mentioned the work done on the home front positively.
Images of the
French army sometimes included colonial troops in a position of equality. Initially
regarded very sceptically, by the end o f the war troops from the Maghreb were highly
AAZ
praised.
However these positive descriptions often were very similar to those from
before the war. General Archinard, who had commanded colonial troops before the
conflict and was a patron o f General Mangin, claimed that “Les tirailleurs
d’aujourd’hui sont bien les memes que ceux que j ’ai connus autrefois: terrible dans la
907
bataille, mais disciplines et bien dans la main de leurs chefs.”
In Eugene-Melchior
de Vogue’s 1899 novel Les Morts qui par lent, One of the principal characters, Pierre,
a colonial officer argued that the empire could provide a hundred, two hundred
thousand incomparable soldiers, Senegalese and Sudanese; fighters with bayonets
ACHAC (1993) p. 75.
202 Liisenbrink. “Les troupes coloniales dans la guerre” p. 75.
203 Le Petit Marseillais, 19 September, 1915.
204 Stovall, “The Color Line Behind The Lines”, p. 766.
205 La Petite Gironde, 10 June, 1917.
206 Meynier, L ’A lgerie Revelee, pp. 431-433 See also Marie-Monique Huss, Histoires de la Famille,
1914-1918: Cartes postales et culture de guerre, Paris, Noesis/Peronne, Historial de la Grande Guerre,
(2000) p. 147, p. 149.
207 La Depeche Coloniale et Maritime, 25 September, 1917.
61
who cannot be reasoned with, who don’t retreat, offer no pardon; the sort of forces
who are both malleable and cruel.208
According to Le Petit Marseillais in January 1914, the West African troops who were
fighting valiantly in Morocco alongside white troops were “le plus precieux et le plus
devoue auxiliaire.”209 Similarly the Lyon Republicain described in June 1917 “troupes
d’Afrique et des colonies qui, depuis le debut de la guerre combattant avec autant de
devouement que d’intrepidite pour le defense de notre sol.”210 The crucial similarity
is in the stress on the “devotion” o f the African troops, as a servant to a master.
Audoin-Rouzeau’s study o f children’s wartime literature contends that “Ce mythe
egalisateur, present dans les publications les plus conservatrices, toucha meme les
prejuges raciaux”. He offers the example o f La Semaine du Suzette, which described a
girl who met a convalescent black soldier in Montsouris Park. They became friends,
through exchanging presents, until ultimately her parents invited him to visit their
house. “Le soldat africain est invite a diner, la maison bourgeoise devient pour lui
“une maison amie”: la demiere image le montre confortablement installe dans les
911
fauteuils familiaux, largement ravitaille en tabac ...”.
In Becassine, the heroine, a
nurse, has to treat a black soldier in her ambulance. She is somewhat nervous, but he
turns out to be o f princely origin, with perfect manners. Even more importantly, he is
a hero, with the Croix de Guerre.212
The phenomenon was not restricted to children’s literature. Seche told o f how
Pas d’hopital de petite ville qui n ’ait eu son Senegalais. L’arrivee d’un tirailleur faisait sensation; on en
parlait dans toutes les salles et dans chaque maison. Apres avoir ete un objet de curiosite, il ne tardait
pas a devenir l’enfant gate. II amusait par son langage, sa mimique, ses boutades.213
208 Quoted in Le Nationalisme Fran?ais, 1871-1914, Textes choisis et presente par Raoul Girardet.
Paris: Armand Colin (1966) pp. 122-123.
209 Le Petit Marseillais, 3 January, 1914.
210 Lyon Republicain, 1 June, 1917.
211 Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau, La guerre des enfants 1914-1918, Paris, Armand Colin, (1993) p. 76.
212 Audoin-Rouzeau, La guerre des enfants, p. 76.
213 Seche, Les Noirs, p. 235.
62
Of course in all these examples, the black soldiers have earned the right to French
approval by serving in action; that they are wounded both proves their commitment
and renders them less threatening.214 Even then, the stereotyped attitude that the
French had towards colonial men was not completely erased. As Anne Donadey has
argued popular images o f the Senegalese tirailleurs in France took two distinct forms
“showcasing either their savage nature and warrior qualities against the German
enemy, or their benevolent child-like nature in order to reassure the French
people.”215
Marie-Monique Huss’s book on postcards sent during the war contains four postcards
based on playing cards, which offer a fascinating, and very subtly differentiated
portrait o f the degree o f acceptance extended towards non-white soldiers.216 The three
white soldiers and one black one are each shown receiving the animated interest of
the French females, with the poilu figure making the most obvious progress. But for
the black soldier, although the white woman is obviously enjoying his company, there
are distinct differences from the other images. Firstly, she has her body turned
slightly away from him, while all the other women are turned towards the soldiers.
More importantly, the black soldier is the only one who is not receiving any form o f
physical contact from the women. The message is that French women appreciate the
heroism and gallantry o f the colonial soldier, but it is not sufficient to arouse the
ardour that the French soldiers inspire in them. Laure Barbizet-Namer has highlighted
another way in which the threat o f non-white men to French women could be negated
in images o f the war. She argues that there were numerous popular images o f
“Infirmieres, marraines de guerre, elegantes parisiennes,” recognising the appeal of
colonial soldiers. “Mais par un hasard malheureux il a toujours le bras bande, done
immobilise, du cote de la tentation, rendue de ce fait caduque”.217
214 This position o f regarding some black men were superior to others simply on the basis of their
service in the French army was also projected on to the black soldiers themselves. “S’il (the
Senegalese) reconnait la superiorite des blancs, il n’hesite point a s’assigner la premiere place parmi les
noirs, parmi ceux restes dans la brousse et qui ne portent pas l’uniforme.” S6che, Les Noirs, p. 49.
215 Anne Donadey, ‘“ Y ’a bon Banania’: ethics and cultural criticism in the colonial context” in French
Cultural Studies 11 (2000) p. 14.
216 Huss, Histoires de la Famille, p. 229.
63
A much less subtle portrayal occurs in the postcard highlighting the Journee de
VArmee d ’A frique et des Troupes Coloniales. The four French soldriers are in the
background, two sheltering behind a tree, one standing still, another advancing
purposefully. The postcard is dominated by the single African soldier running
forward fearlessly, arms and rifle aloft.218 This postcard is clearly glorifying the
heroic black warrior, but it also places him in an exotic context separate from the
Frenchmen behind him. As the bravery and heroism o f the French soldiery could not
be questioned in a medium such as a postcard, the aggressiveness of the black soldier
once again emphasises black soldiers recklessness compared to the sang-froid, the
measured courage o f the white soldier. The presence o f the poilus also no doubt
served as a reminder for potential contributors that the Africans and the French were
fighting together, and a donation towards the Armee dAfrique was also one for the
benefit o f the French soldiery.
217 Laure Barbizet-Namer, “Ombres et lumieres portees sur les Africains: peintures, gravures,
illustrations, cartes postales.” in Nicolas Bancel; Pascal Blanchard; Laurent Gerverau (eds.) Images et
Colonies: Iconographie etpropagande coloniale sur VAfrique franqaise de 1880 a 1962 (1993) p. 95.
218 Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker, La Grande Guerre, 1914-1918, Paris: Gallimard
(1998) p. 69.
64
;; ; ; | ;
That the heroism o f the colonial troops was o f a different nature from that o f the
French troops is made clear in another postcard from early in the war which depicted
a grinning black soldier standing with his weapon behind his back, withstanding a
hail o f shells, while two poilus cowered behind him. The postcard was headed
“Moi...pas peur! Balles pas trouer peau noire”. Underneath was a poem by Andre
Rosa, dated 1915 entitled La Bravoure du Soldat Noir:
Le noir est un soldat d’un courage exemplaire...
Regardez ce Turco comme il craint peu la mort?
Aussi, la France l’aime, et lui, qui veut lui plaire,
Se conduit en heros, constamment, sans effort.219
In both these instances the personal agency o f the black soldier in choosing to be
heroic is denied. In the postcard the perceived mystical powers o f his black skin
protect the soldier; the poem declares that heroism comes to blacks without effort.
The contrast to the heroism o f the French who are aware o f the risks o f war but take
them anyway is transparent. This argument was advanced explicitly by Seche.
Dans toute les actes des noirs, on retrouve ce melange d’enfantillage et d’hSroisme, si bien que l’on est
tenty de croire que leur courage est un effet de leur simplicity d’esprit. Nullement. Le Senegalais est
brave par nature; etre primitif, il n’analyse pas.220
General Archinard was unsure whether the heroism o f North African troops was
inherent to their race or whether it was down to an endemic fatalism. “La bravoure de
nos tirailleurs de PAffique du Nord est-elle une qualite purement de race ou est-elle
991
due, en grande partie tout au moins, au fatalisme sous lequel ils sont tous courbes.”
The bravery o f colonial troops from both North and West Africa was typically
associated with fearless attacking, rather than valiant defence. The Depeche
interviewed a captain who had just returned from Morocco and asked him how
219 LQsenbrink. “Les troupes coloniales dans la guerre” p. 82.
220 Syche, Les Noirs, p. 39.
221 La Depeche Coloniale et Maritime, 21 September, 1917.
67
offensive than defensive warfare.
Barbusse described black African troops as
characterised by “their ferocity in attack, their devouring passion to be in with the
bayonet, and their predilection for ‘no quarter’”224
Similar accounts of the savage fury of colonial troops in the attack appeared in
newspapers throughout the war. One referring to the “le mordant endiable des
Marocains” argued that
Incomparables au jeu de la baionnette, les phalanges d’Afrique coucherent dans ce qui restait de
tranchees quelques centaines de soldats aux yeux fous et qui recevaient la mort comme la delivrance
d’un lourd et aflreux cauchemar.225
Another description emphasises the unreal, even inhuman, nature of some of the
attackers by using words such as “diables” and “fantasia”.
En d£pit des obus, deux grands diables de moricauds appelds Hassen et Brahim, en avant de la “vague”
jetant leurs fusils en Pair, les rattrapant h la volde, faisant de leurs baionnettes des moulinets
ftourdissants, pris de la fureur de la poudre, dans cette boue sans nom dansaient, faisaient la fantasia.226
An Algerian Jew fighting in the French army claimed similarly “Nous ne sommes pas
des demons comme ces Arabes, qui se ruent contre l’ennemi avec une sorte de folie
mystique.”227
222 La Depeche, 26 October, 1915.
223 Maurice Maugars, Avec La Marocaine, Paris: Albin Michel (1920) p. 77
224 Leonard Smith, “Masculinity, Memory, and the French World War I Novel:Henri Barbusse and
Roland Dorgelds” in F. Coetzee and M. Shevin-Coetzee (eds.), Authority,Identityand the Social
History of the Great War, Oxford: Berghahn (1995) p. 254.
225 Le Petit Marseillais, 20 October, 1915.
226 Le Petit Marseillais, 17 January, 1917.
227 Pradier, Besson, L ’Afrique du Nord et la Guerre p. 128.
68
Millerand’s description, along with that of Barbusse and the two articles in Le Petit
Marseillais all stress the fondness of colonial troops to the bayonet. This partly
mirrors the prevalence of descriptions of French soldiers using “Rosalie” in the early
months of the war, but also suggests a common perception that backward races would
be more proficient with blades rather than rifles.229
The belief in the unthinking bravery of Black and North African troops was not jus
restricted to popular opinion but was shared by their commanders and informed thei]
utilisation during the war. For the generals Berdoulat and Blondlat who wen
commanders in the colonial army, the Senegalese troops were incontestably brave bu
were unable to fulfil specialist positions.
General Puyperoux commented on hov
his troops had gained the admiration o f their comrades from the metropole due tc
their drive and their gallantry in the assault and spoke of their “entrain endiable”.
Algerians were most likely to be used as shock troops while the deaths of tirailleur!
were roughly similar in percentages to that of the French infantry, but they were mor<
likely to be killed during assaults than in the trenches.
When allocating divisions from French West Africa, certain tribes were considered t(
be more warlike than others. Those sent to the front line tended to be from Senegal
Haut-Senegal, Niger and the Haute-Guinee while those kept back were from the Cot<
228 Pradier, Besson, L ’Afrique du Nord et la Guerre p. 109.
229 “Rosalie” was supposedly the nickname given by the French infantry to their bayonettes, though it
tended to be a term more popular amongst propagandists than soldiers.
230 Michel, L'Appel a L ’Afrique, p. 299. See also Joe Lunn, ‘“Les Races Guerridres’: Racia
Preconceptions in the French Military about West African Soldiers during the First World War” ii
Journal o f Contemporary History 34-4 (1999) pp. 517-536.
231 Puyperoux, La 3"* Division Coloniale p. 30, p. 52.
232 Meynier, L ’Algerie Revelee, p.431. Jacques Thobie; Gilbert Meynier; Catherine Coquery
Vidrovitch; Charles-Robert Ageron, Histoire de la France Coloniale, 1914-1990. Paris: Armand Colii
(1990) p. 78.
6<
The French military consistently worked on the basis that the more warlike a tribe had
been in Africa, the better a soldier they would produce. This complemented an
ideology that denied black men the ability to transcend their origins. These
distinctions did not just apply within French West Africa, they also applied to the
Madagascan troops who, unlike the Senegalese, Chantal Valensky argues, were “[...]
ne sont pas conges pour une utilisation combattante mais plutot comme un element
d’appoint et dans des activites plus proches de la logistique que de l’attaque...”
One problem with the perceived offensive vigour of colonial troops was that it was
difficult to control them. Puyperoux said of his troops that the only possible fault they
had was “d’etre trop braves, d’avoir trop d’allant et trop de modant.”
A report by a
sergeant in a colonial regiment for the Depeche described how they would make a
successful attack. “Mais il faut refrener l’ardeur des coloniaux; des ordres imperieux
limitent l’avance pour la joumee.”237 Similarly it was said of a regiment of tirailleurs
in December 1916 that
les chefs de son section sont obliges de refrener l’ardeur de leur hommes qui, ne se souciant pas de la
Ugne d’6clatement de notre artillerie dont on se rapprochait de plus en plus, n’avaient tous qu’une
pens6e: prendre le boche.238
Their belligerence was also believed to result in fighting outside the battlefield.
233 Michel, L ’Appel a L 'Afrique, p. 299.
234 S6ch£, Les Noirs, p. 18.
235 Chantal Valensky, Le Soldat Occulte: Les Malgaches de I’Armee Frangaise, 1884-1920. Paris:
L’Harmattan (1995) p. 276.
236 Puyperoux, La 3me Division Coloniale p. 11
237 La Depeche, 13 August, 1918.
238 Meynier, L ’Algerie Revelee, p. 432.
70
their childishness, as evinced by their puerile and unintelligible comments.
The focus on the attacking ability of non-white troops was also a way of glossing
over their perceived deficiencies in defensive warfare, where they were believed to
lack the discipline to consistently hold a position. The Ouest-Eclair quoted an English
officer describing the capture of a fortress in German occupied Cameroon.
Les troupes europeennes auraient tenu longtemps derrigre ces fortifications puissantes. Mais les
troupes indigenes, qui formaient la majeure partie de la gamison, furent demoralisees par l’explosion
des obus a melinite et a lyddite. Elies lachgrent pied.240
Even in 1918, it was still considered necessary to have 3 white batallions in resevc
behind General Puyperoux’s Colonial division.241
The army itself does seem to have been reasonably egalitarian, although a debate in
the Chamber of Deputies, in March 1916 saw M. Candace, the deputy from
Guadeloupe, and some other deputies from the colonies complaining of
discrimination against black troops by white officers, and also when medals were
awarded.242 The white soldiers sent over to train prospective African soldiers were
unaccustomed to dealing with Africans and provoked much resentment. At the end of
1916, the Senegalese deputy Blaise Diagne presented a dossier of complaints on this
issue. These included insults such as “sale negre”, “saligot” and “singe sauvage de la
239 Michel, L ’Appel a L ’Afrique, p. 388 (from an article on Senegalese camps in 1919, attributed by
Michel to Guingard).
240 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 23 February, 1916.
241 Puypgroux, La 3** Division Coloniale p. 144
242 La Petite Gironde, 24 March, 1916.
71
avec les Arabes. Ils etaient, comme nous, les pauvres types. On etait tous dans la
meme merde”.
Black American soldiers also felt their treatment in France was far
better than in their own country, and offered many compliments along the line of
“These French people don’t bother with no color line business. They treat us so good
that the only times I ever know I’m colored is when I look in the glass.”246
In the United States, the black politician Emmett J. Scott solicited the opinion of
Colonel Edouard Requin of the French Military Commission to the United States on
the participation of French Negro troops in the Great War, in which he claimed the
performance of the troops was “excellent”
Recruited among the warrior tribes of Senegal and the Soudan these troops have great combatant
qualities. They are particularly apt for attack and counter-attack, but they are primitive men without
civilization—men who cannot be comparedfrom this point of view with colored Americans. The black
French soldiers are excellent grenadiers, but they are less prepared in the use of the machine gun and
die automatic rifle, which demand a certain mechanical aptitude. They receive the same instructions as
die French soldiers; these instructions are given to them by white officers and non-commissioned
officers who understand them well, and who for this reason ought to be changed as little as possible248
R6quin’s arguments are entirely consistent with the other arguments made out before
and during the war on the capabilities of black soldiers. They were brave, suited for
attack, warriors by nature, but lacking civilisation and mechanical aptitude and
needing the supervision of white officers.
243 Michel, L ’Appel a LAfrique, p. 123, p. 136.
244 Meynier, L ’Algerie Revelee, pp. 420-424.
245 Meynier, L ’Algerie Revelee, pp. 441-442.
246 MacMaster, Racism in Europe, p. 121.
247 Emmett J. Scott Scott’s official history o f the American negro in the world war, Washington D.C.
(1919), [WWW] <http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/comment/Scott/SChlO.htm> [Accessed 31
October 2003]
248 Scott: Scott's official history of the American negro in the world war.
72
responded “Vous vous trouvez en conflit avec l’etat-major du XIXe corps. Depuis un
an, il n’a pas trouve un seul lieutenant indigene digne d’etre capitaine.”249 The
conflict had little impact in advancing the case for the appointment of colonial
officers from the positions held in this exchange.
If foreign soldiers were generally better regarded than foreign workers amongst the
public, it is nevertheless true that they could still generate plenty of hostility. Marc
Michel quotes Lucie Cousturier from her book Inconnus chez moi written just after
the war, where she describes the reaction of the inhabitants of Saint-Raphael who “se
refuserent, des le premier bonjour echange avec les etrangers, a dire ‘ce sont des
singes’ pour affirmer ‘ce sont des enfants’”.
There were several rumours of
colonial soldiers having fired on striking French workers such as the story that in June
1917 colonial soldiers had fired at women strikers in St Etienne after French soldiers
had refused. The idea that non-white troops might be used against French workers
had been raised before the war, notably by Jaures.
Although there was rarely any
truth to these rumours they served to perpetuate suspicions amongst the French
working class.
The letters and journals of soldiers also displayed several instances where fighting together
had not altered their ideas of disgust towards blacks. One French soldier writing home
commented about American black troops: “c’est meme degoutant de les voir manger,
car ils melangent le tout dans une affreuse mixture qu’ils arrosent de nombreux
249 Le Petit Marseillais, 8 February, 1914.
250 Marc Michel, “L’image du soldat noir” in Nicolas Bancel; Pascal Blanchard; Laurent Gerverau
(eds.) Images et Colonies: Iconographie et propagande coloniale sur VAfrique franqaise de 1880 a
1962 Nanterre: BDIC-ACHAC (1993) p. 87.
251 Downs, Manufacturing Inequality p. 131, Michel, L ’Appel a L ’Afrique, pp. 10-11. See also
Stovall, “The Color Line Behind The Lines”, p. 762, p. 750.
73
enfant. Ces deux stereotypes existaient avant la guerre, mais celui de ‘bon sauvage’ parait etre sorti des
milieux etroits ou il etait confine jusque-la grace aux contacts reels, directs, entre Blancs et Noirs que
permit la guerre.254
However while the two stereotypes of the “good” and “bad savage” did exist, they did
not seem to work in opposition to each other. Instead aspects of both could be applied
depending on the situation. While black soldiers could be portrayed as gentle and
childlike in their dealings with the French population, they were still consistently
depicted as ferocious in combat. While the bravery of colonial troops was a near
universal theme, this maintained its association with savagery. Andre Kahn visited a
cemetery where various African soldiers were buried and mused on the “[BJraves
sauvages civilises qui sont morts pour la civilisation?”
While Kahn was clearly
glad that the “savages” were on the French side and welcomed their presence, it
didn’t mitigate his beliefs in their brutality and primitivism. He recounted one episode
that illustrated this.
Une anecdote vgcue. Un tirailleur s£n£galais charge de garder un prisonnier boche le force k se coucher
au fond d’un boyau. II lui fait fermer les yeux en lui disant: ‘Toi, camarade, toi plus souffrir de la
guerre’, et d’un coup de couteau, il lui tranche le cou. Puis il continue a le veiller et un voisin de la
sc&ne le voit couvrir l’Allemand d’une couverture et lui dire encore: ‘toi, bon camarade, toi plus jamais
souffrir!256
252 Andre Kaspi, Le Temps des Americains; Le Concours Americain a la France en 1917-1918. Paris:
Publications de la Sorbonne (1976), p. 295.
253 Jacques Lovie, Poilus Savoyards (1913-1918) Chronique d ’une famille de Tarentais, Arc-Isere,
(1981) p. 128.
254 Michel, L ’Appel a L ’Afrique, p. 397.
255 Andre Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote 1914-1918. Paris: Jean-Claude Simoen (1978),
p. 167.
256 Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un JuifPatriote, p. 324.
74
V O lU O g ^ .
According to the Petit Marseillais,
Tandis qu’ils ouvraient la fusillade contre les tranchdes allemandes, des S6n6galais se glissaient dans
I’herbe, rampant sans bruit comme des fauVes. [...] A la vue des moricauds, les Allemands leverent
imm&iiatement les bras en criant: ‘Kamerad! kamerad! pas kapout!’. [...] Les Sen^galais inspirent aux
Allemands une frayeur terrible.258
The impression that black Africans were welcomed because of the savagery they
were expected to unleash on the Germans is backed up by Bakary Diallo who
reported that the shouts of “Bravo les tirailleurs senegalais! Vive la France!” with
which his tirailleurs were greeted were accompanied by shouts of “Couper tetes aux
Allemands”.
The soldiers were certainly not expected to interact with the crowds
acclaiming them and Joe Lunn quotes a soldier from Guinea, Kamara, saying that if
troops turned to look at the people cheering them from the side of the road, they
would be slapped by their officers.260
American blacks were largely seen as more civilised, and one soldier was at pains to
point this out in his letter. “Enfin cette fois, nous avons des Americains avec nous, ce
sont des Noirs de New York, des coustauds et non des sauvages, loin de la; ils
n’aiment pas les Anglais ni les Americains blancs.” Despite being “far from savage”
they were still described as wanting to inflict brutal treatment on the enemy. “Ici tout
257 Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote, p. 154.
258 Le Petit Marseillais, 26 June, 1916.
259 Michel, L 'Appel a L ’Afrique, p. 392.
260 Joe Harris Lunn, “Kande Kamara Speaks: An Oral History of the West African Experience in
France 1914-18” in Melvin E. Page (ed.) Africa and the First World War. Basingstoke: McMillan
(1987) p.38. The chosen method for punishing soldiers who stepped out of line - slapping them - is
another reminder of the low regard the troops were held in. Not only is it a humiliating and degrading
punishment, but it carries strong echoes of the disciplining of children, as black men were often seen to
75
being unemployed due to the utilisaton of German prisoners and American “dockers
noirs”. The article declared that hiring the French should take priority over all foreign
workers, including those from Allied countries. Race was not mentioned again in the
article and it’s clear the writer would have opposed white Americans working in
place of the French, but nonetheless the colour of the Americans was used to
highlight the injustice.263
One issue which has received little attention so far is the regular instances of violence
between different groups of foreigners in France. The camp of Dellys in Algeria had
to separate the contingent from the Antilles from that of the Senegalese because ol
their antagonism. One particularly bloody confrontation at Sendets in November 1918
saw twenty nine Indochinese casualties (including nine fatalities) and three
Senegalese though the cause of the dispute remained unknown.
* \£ L A
In January 1917 ai
the pouderie in Bassens there was a conflict between Chinese and “Arab” workers
after the Chinese attacked an engineer and the Algerians came to defend him. The
military intervened, killing two Chinese.265 In October 1917, police reported on z
quarrel at Creusot between Chinese and Portuguese workers in which several serious
injuries were caused.266
A letter written from the front by Louis Bonnet to his parents in March 1917
described a dispute on the front between Somalis and Madagascans, which had
be.
261 Jean Nicot (ed.) Les poilus ont la parole: dans la tranchees, lettres dufront, 1917-1918. Brussells:
Editions Complexe (1998) pp. 433-434.
262 La Depeche, 30 July, 1918.
263 L’Information, 8 December, 1917
264 Michel, L ’Appel a L ’Afrique, p. 380 Michel states that confrontations between the West Africans
aid other colonial contingents were rare though.
265 Meynier, L ’Algerie Revelee, p. 469.
266 Michelle Marguin (ed.) La Saone-et-Loire pendant la guerre de 14-18, Macon: Centre
76
Conclusion
g i_
In a debate in the chamber of deputies, on the 30 January 1919, a deputy from Oran
spoke on the issue of granting political rights to indigenous Algerians.
II reconnait la necessite pour la France de payer la dette qu’elle a contractee vis-a-vis d’eux au course
de ces quatre anndes, pendant lesquelles ils n’ont cesse de tdmoigner de leur entier ddvouement a la
mfre-patrie. Mais le projet actuel, en certains de ses articles, aurait, selon lui, 1’inconvenient de
diminuer la preeminence legitimement acquise des citoyens frangais.268
In so doing, he summed up the general attitude that prevailed in France that they were
glad of the contribution played by colonial subjects to France’s cause, and pleased
with the loyalty displayed, but that it had done nothing to alter the superiority of
white Frenchmen. In a conference in the summer of 1916 on the colonial contribution
to France, Augustin Bernard outlined how he believed those North Africans who had
served France should be rewarded. While lauding their efforts and sacrifices, Bernard
believed that France’s colonial subjects were not ready for political equality and
should be rewarded in other fashions.
Ce n’est pas en conferant aux indigenes qui ont servi la France pendant la grande guerre des droits
politique pour lesquels ils ne sont pas murs que nous les r6compenserons comme il convient. En leur
dmnant des avantages p£cuniaires et des pensions, en leur r£servant certains emplois, nous
tftnoignerons a ces h6ros qui ont vers£ leur sang sur les champs de bataille de l’Europe pour la noble
Departmental de Documentation P&lagogique (1984) 22 October, 1917.
267 R£my Cazals, Claude Marquis, Rene Pini&s, Annees Cruelles: 1914-1918, Carcassonne: Atelier du
Gu6 (1983) p. 118.
268 La Petite Gironde, 31 January, 1919.
77
cause de la France et de la civilisation, la reconnaissance a laquelle ils ont droit et que nous ne saurions
leur marchander. 269
F. Jourdier made a similar point regarding granting French citizenship to the electors
o f the four communes in Senegal.
Gratifier les indigenes des Communes de plein exercice du Senegal de la quality de citoyens frangais,
c ’est faire, parmi nos populations noires, une veritable revolution-la, le moins qu’on puisse dire, c ’est,
on le voit, qu’elle serait prematuree,270
In February 1919, Muslims in North Africa were granted the right to vote in local
elections, but this was one o f a very few tangible rewards.271
Most importantly o f all, the French public was determined in its resolution to seek to
exclude non-whites from France. The temporary nature o f a colonial presence on
French soil was regularly stressed, L ’Ouest-Eclair talking o f an opportune moment to
examine the character o f those from overseas who are “momentanement pres de
nous.”272 In Troupes noires, Alfred Guignard had spoken positively o f his
experiences in Africa and o f the value o f black troops. Yet his book also contained a
fascinating episode towards the end, when he describes returning to France with a
black servant.
Vous connaissez trop tard votre erreur de site et sa bonne face noire, la-bas si sympathique, se fait ici
irritante et grotesque sans que le pauvre ait commis d’autre faute que les sottises suggerees a son
ing£nuit£. S^rieusement, vous le voudriez ailleurs. Mais ou?
He also expressed irritation at the waiter addressing him and his black companion as
equals and the black man eating with his hands 273 It is surely significant that
Guignard, who had enjoyed his experiences with blacks in Africa, should find them
so irritating in France. During the war, black troops were kept rigorously segregated
269 La Depeche Coloniale et Maritime, 7 July, 1916.
270 La Depeche Coloniale et Maritime, 12 September, 1916.
271 Pedroncini, “Allocution introductive” p. 19. It should be noted that measures were already being
taken in the Chamber in early 1914 to increase indigenous representation in Algerian government.
Pradier, Besson, L \Afrique du N ord et la Guerre pp. 20-21.
272 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 23 January, 1918.
273 Guignard, Troupes noires, p. 309.
78
from French society, and forbidden to leave camp.274 In the Depeche Coloniale et
Maritime a Dr M. wrote that West African troops were soon hospitalised separately
from French troops because their different cultures made co-habitation unpleasant for
all concerned.
Les interminables palabres qu’aiment a tenir les indigenes a toute heure du jour et de la nuit, paraissent
bientot fastidieux a des Europeens deprimes: ces demiers voient un manque d’egards premedite dans
un fait qui n’est qu’une habitude negre inveteree et meme une forme de la courtoisie chez les Noirs.
D’autre part, 1’indigene, le plus innocemment du monde, crache abondamment autour de lui et ne
craint pas de souiller les murs et la literie de sa salive coloree en rouge par la kola. Je passe sous
silence d’autres incongruity que reprouve notre education et que tolere la sienne... Les reproches
mutuels font vite place aux injures; le ressentiment et le degout succedent a la confiance et a la
camaraderie du debut.275
Although the writer does not explicitly criticise the behaviour o f the black troops, it is
obvious from the examples and language he uses that he considers the mentality of
the colonial soldiers the source o f the antagonism, and not their metropolitan
comrades. The impression that the writer offers is that while they could fight together
with their white colleagues, the primitive habits of the West Africans meant they
could not be expected to live in the same communities. The majority of colonial
troops were despatched home as soon as possible after the armistice, even before
peace was secured. Clemenceau was sending black troops home in January 1919,
97£
even as Foch was begging the United States to slow its own withdrawal.
For most people who did not distrust non-whites, the tendency was to ignore them.
Hans Lusenbrink notes “La marginalisation des soldats coloniaux dans les bulletins
militaires, mais aussi dans la presse des annees 1914-1918 est frappante.” Dewitte
argues that the war did nothing to alter the general opinion o f the French towards
274 Lunn, “Kande Kamara Speaks” pp. 36-38.
275 La Depeche Coloniale et Maritime, 28 August, 1917.
276 Keith L. Nelson, “The ‘Black Horror on the Rhine’: Race as a Factor in Post-World War I
Diplomacy” in Journal o f Modern History 42-4 (1970) n. 31 pp. 612-613.
79
their colonies - that o f indifference.277 This viewpoint was expressed at the time by
Diala, a member o f the Girondine section o f the Ligue coloniale fran9aise.
General Puyperoux’s account o f the 3rd Colonial Division during the war began with
a poem entitled L ’Ame Coloniale by the Abbe Miot, who had been the chaplain for
the division. Written in August 1918, it is worth quoting in its entirety as it contains
almost all the standard stereotypes about colonial soldiers, apparently intact despite
Miot’s proximity to the soldiers.
Comment la definir Fame coloniale,
et dire, cher Docteur, la valeur sans egale
De ces braves soldats, omes de maints chevrons,
Dont la guerre a seme les os sur tous les fronts?
A la Coloniale, on aime l’aventure
Et Ton a peu de gout pour la guerre d’usure.
On bout d’impatience au fond des noirs boyaux;
On voudrait toujours voir des horizons nouveaux.
Ah! vienne le grand jour! C ’est alors qu’on s’elance,
Qu’on couvre les plateaux, comme une mer immense.
On bondit, on se cache, on rebondit encore;
On se moque des coups et Ton nargue la mort.
II faut les avoir vus, ces invincibles diables,
Saisir le Boche en des corps a corps effroyables,
A Massiges, Flaucourt, a Moisy, Vauxaillon,
A la ferme Hurtebise, a Vauclerc, a Foulon,
Autour de Reims; enfm, lorsque la fourragere
Oma de son reflet leur epaule guerriere.
Tambours, un ban d’honneur! Car ces braves amis,
En tout secteur, ont bien merite du pays.
Ici, je voudrais bien detruire la legende
Qui fait, de ces heros, une horde, une bande
De troupiers sans scruples, au pillages achames,
Repandant la terreur, au loin, de tous cotes.
277 Liisenbrink, “Les troupes coloniales dans la guerre” p. 82. Dewitte, Les Mouvements Negres en
France, p. 11.
278 La Petite Gironde, 5 January, 1919.
80
J’ai perfu, maintes fois, ce cri parmi les foules:
“Les Coloniaux! Vite, cachez vos poules!”
C’est un reproche injuste et cruel a l’egard
De tous ces grands enfants au clair et doux regard.
Et toi, Coulibaly, que dis-tu? Sois sincere.
Et la noir de repondres: “Y en a bon la guerre
Avec Fran9ais!” Bravo! c ’est bien, Coulibaly.
Je sais qu’on peu partout de toi l’on a medit.
C’etait en mai dernier, a l’epoque tragique
Ou nos soldats pliaient sous 1’effort germanique.
Le haut commandement lance Coulibaly
A l’assaut de Tinqueux, derriere Champfleury,
Face au Boche. Aussitot, brandissant Rosalie,
Le noir se precipite, hurlant avec furie.
Pas un ne recula. Les noirs jusqu’aux demiers,
Aimerent mieux mourir que d’etre prisonniers.
Ce n’est pas moi, c ’est le Vorwaerts qui le publie.
Vous voyez ce qu’on dit des noirs... en Germanie.279
The first verse emphasies the bravery and sacrifice of the colonial troops. The second
verse starts by stressing that they fight for adventure not for money, and highlights
their reckless courage that laughs at death, while the “invincible diables” hints that
this bravery isn’t quite human. The third verse is still more revealing, displaying the
fear and suspicion that continued to be directed at colonial troops by the French
population. Of course Miot claims this is an unjustified slur on the overgrown
children o f France’s colonies. The last verse sees Miot’s idea o f the childlike Black
soldier personified by “Coulibaly” who in one sentence reveals himself to be
straightforward, loyal and ignorant. The end of the poem comes back to the primary
image o f the Black soldier throughout the war: charging headlong into battle,
screaming, brandishing a bayonet, seeking death or glory and striking terror into the
Germans.
If the war itself did little to change attitudes, Lusenbrink argues that significant
change occurred with the occupation o f the Rhineland and the German opposition to
81
the presence o f non-white soldiers. “Cette campagne allemande contre les soldats
fran9ais de couleur, et en particulier les tirailleurs senegalais, eut en France un
immense retentissement public.”
He concludes that
Plus que la guerre elle-meme, ce fiirent ainsi les consequences qui modifierent profondement l’image
du monde colonial et de ses habitants en France: la virulence de la campagne allemande contre les
troupes de couleur eut pour resultat une attitude s ’identification qui affecta, a travers la presse et les
expositions coloniales, egalement la grande masse de la population franchise. Et l’emergence des
premiers ecrivains africains - parmi lesquels on compte avec Bakary Diallo et Lamine Senghor
plusieurs anciens tirailleurs - finit par remettre en cause radicalement le patemalisme condescendant
qui avait longtemps domine les rapports entre metropolitains et populations des colonies.281
Dewitte also notes that the German campaign against the black troops in the
Rhineland aroused French support for those troops.
989
It is outside the scope of this
study to examine these arguments, although Brett Berliner’s excellent study of racial
attitudes in France between the wars demonstrates the continuing presence of
contradictory discourses based on common assumptions o f black inferiority and
irrationality. He argues that notions o f black savagery and cannibalism were very
popular in the post-war period as the French sought to respond to the horrors of war
by once again siting barbarism firmly outside of Europe in a black Other. This
discourse existed alongside one that justified France’s colonial role by reference to
•
the progress made by non-white colonial subjects under French tutelage.
98*2
It can be
noted that the fundamental idea o f the strange and inferior colonial other still existed
in 1929 when General Trentinian prefaced a book on France’s West African empire
by Rondet-Saint, with the argument that it would be of interest to readers “curieux de
connaitre des pays [...] ou l’homme et la nature different, en effet, profondement de
984
l’homme de la race blanche et des contrees qu’ils habitent.”
279 Puyperoux, La 3me Division Coloniale, pp. 7-8.
280 Liisenbrink, “Les troupes coloniales dans la guerre” p. 83.
281 Liisenbrink, “Les troupes coloniales dans la guerre” pp. 84-85.
282 Dewitte, Les Mouvements Negres en France, pp. 49-50.
283 Brett A. Berliner, Ambivalent Desires: The Exotic Black Other in Jazz-age France. Amherst :
University o f Massachusetts Press (2002) pp. 126-130.
284 Maurice Rondet-Saint, Dans notre Empire Noir. Paris: Societe d’Edition Geographiques,
Maritimes et Coloniales (1929) p. v.
82
CHAPTER 2 - Race and Nationality
People from France’s colonies and those with different coloured skins were not the
only ones viewed in racial terms. Both popular and scientific discourse ascribed
national characteristics to white and European peoples on a racial basis. The French
argued that the outrages committed by the Germans were the result of a cruelty and a
warlike fanaticism inherent in their racial make-up, while vacillations in Russian
policy were understood as the manifestations of Russian’s Slavic nature. Thus in his
book about the English, John Charpentier argued that what distinguished them from
the Germans was the Celtic influence on the Teutonic race: “1’Anglais est le produit
d’une grette saxonne, entree sur le tronc celte motile”
Laird Boswell has argued
that in both popular and scientific discourse, Alsace-Lorraine was described as having
formed the borderline between the Celts and Germanic peoples. The racial differences
986
between Alsatians and Germans were widely commented upon.
The war, and
France’s historical conflict with Germany was often portrayed as a racial struggle,
such as when the Lyon branch o f the Ligue populaire des peres et meres de families
nombreuses argued in its periodical that victory, however crushing, could not kill the
“hydre germanique”, only the repopulation of France could effectively combat “la
maudite race germanique”287
The Germans were the nationality who received the most scrutiny during the war in
the French press and in popular imagery and they were almost universally condemned
en masse in racial terms. An article in L ’Ouest-Eclair offers a good illustration of
this, when it argued that “[la] race allemande s’achame sur les hopitaux, par le canon
et par avion.”288 This is significant partly for the implication that the atrocious act of
attacking hospitals is acceptable to the German race. More important is the
assumption that the German race can be seen as a monolithic bloc, with responsibility
for the outrage shared by every member o f that race, not simply the military that
285 John Charpentier, Notre Nouvelle Amie L ’Angleterre, Paris: Hachette (1919) p. 66.
286 Laird Boswell, “From Liberation to Purge Trials in the ‘Mythic Provinces’: Recasting French
Identities in Alsace and Lorraine, 1918-1920 in French Historical Studies 23-1 (2000) pp. 138-139.
287 Ligue populaire des peres et meres de families nombreuses, Nos Enfants. Organe de la section
lyonnaise et des sections du Rhone. March-April 1918, Lyon: J. Poncet (1916) p. 41.
288 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 26 August, 1917.
83
ordered and carried out the attacks. This assumption reappeared consistently
throughout the war. Writing under the name ADV, a journalist for the Petit
Marseillais summed up the general argument made in that paper, that the Germans
had the rulers they deserved.
S’il est vrai que les peuples n’ont que les gouvemments qu’ils m6ritent, le peuple allemand a
parfaitement les chefs qui lui conviennent, et ceux-ci sont impregnes aujourd’hui jusque dans leur
moelle de ce militarisme prussien qu’il eut ecraser a tout prix. [...] Tous, aujourd’hui, on a un meme
degre [...] le mepris et la jalousie du Fran?ais, la haine de 1’Anglais, dont ils envient la rang dans le
monde et l’inquietude que leur cause le voisinage du colosse russe, toujours pret a refrener leurs exces.
The article went on to suggest that the German army was the “synthese de l’orgueil,
OQQ
de la fourberie, de la bestialite germaniques”.
The other nations that participated in the war may not have received the invective that
the French directed against the Germans, but they were similarly assessed in racial
terms. Whether these nations allied with the French, opposed them or stayed neutral
clearly influenced whether their positive or negative racial characteristics were
stressed; but in each case, analyses o f their actions were based on received ideas from
before the war. As with colonial workers and soldiers, so the wartime actions of white
foreigners were understood within a framework of traditional thinking. However,
there was no equivalent to the broad similarities that characterised French views over
non-European peoples, o f their inferiority, their irrationality, their potential for
violence and their unsophistication. While discussions over individual non-white
peoples could be considered as part o f a larger discourse on non-whites more
generally, there was no such universalising concepts for white foreigners.
Furthermore, when discussing white peoples, there was a much greater role allotted to
how historical, social and cultural factors could have affected the character of the
people, in addition to their racial make-up. Given sufficient time it was possible for
different white races to integrate as a nation, though this might take many years;
L ’Ouest-Eclair compared building a nation to building a medieval cathedral in terms
of the time it took.290 By contrast, a comparable integration o f non-white peoples into
289 Le Petit Marseillais, 15 October, 1914.
290 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 3 February, 1917.
84
a white society was seen as unrealistic.
One example o f how national characteristics could be seen as dependent on historic
factors as well as race was the United States, where the recent and extensive
intermingling o f nations and ethnicities complicated the picture. As was discussed in
the last chapter, French observers tended to be suspicious of the feasibility of a nation
successfully assimilating such a mix o f races, each with their own innate
characteristics. Various traits consistently applied to Americans included energy,
idealism, industriousness and flair for business, but as these qualities arose from the
national culture o f the United States they could also be seen as co-existing with
attributes based upon ethnicity. Thus, German-Americans received praise, in certain
contexts, for having thrown off their warlike, Teutonic history and embraced the
virtues o f the United States. At other times, they could be regarded with suspicion as
forever imbued with immutable racial characteristics. Again, the adaptability of
French discourse helped them to maintain traditional judgements throughout the war.
Significantly however, while the various white races of the United States were seen as
being capable o f having a shared national identity, non-white Americans were usually
seen as separate from this shared nature.
Germans
John Home and Alan Kramer argue that, from 1870 onwards, French intellectuals had
viewed Germany in a dualistic manner. The positive aspects of Germany varied
according to political perspective, but this was consistently balanced with the
^Ql
negative aspect o f the militarist expansionism associated with Prussia.
For Home
and Kramer these theories allowed an easy explanation o f Germany’s actions in 1914,
as a “triumph o f the negative over the positive Germany.” This dualism was
expressed occasionally during the war itself. Gabriel Seailles wrote in the Depeche
that “la defaite des Hohenzollem sera la victoire de la vieille Allemagne, de
l’Allemagne liberate des Goethe, des Schiller, des Kant, des Humboldt, qu’ils ont
291 John Home and Alan Kramer, “German "Atrocities" and Franco-German Opinion, 1914: The
Evidence o f German Soldiers' Diaries” in The Journal o f Modern History, 66-1. (1994) pp. 13-14.
85
vaincue et asservie.”
However, this was a rare expression of positive German
potential, during the war at least. L. Faber in the Petit Marseillais also made a
division between some of the great figures of Germany’s past and its miserable
present, but there was no sense o f a noble Germany struggling under Hohenzollem
tyranny.
Si Goethe etait de ce monde, il vous vomirait. D ’autres vous ont vomis qui vous donnent de votre
kulture un incommensurable orgueil. Votre illustre Wieland a dit que c’etait un malheur d’etre ne
Allemand. Et n’oubliez pas la parole ecrite de Schopenhauer: “En prevision de ma mort, je confesse
que je meprise la nation allemande a cause de sa betise infinie et que je rougis de lui appartenir.”293
More common were accusations that the Germans were an uncivilized race, doomed
to be barbaric and savage. Not even those who had been subject to a civilizing French
influence were salvageable. These ideas had a long history. A columnist in La Petite
Gironde, on the subject o f Germans naturalised as French, could quote Victor Hugo
approvingly “Ce sont des immigres indesirables qui ne pourront jamais depouiller leur
origine. C’est l ’espion d’hier, d’aujourd’hui, de demain, de toujours.” Gustave Tery
published a book containing a plethora o f articles from 1908-1914 declaiming the
presence o f foreigners, particularly Germans in France and their malign influence. He
had written 6 years before the war
Regardez ici, regardez la: de quelque cote que vous toumiez les yeux, vous apercevrez des Allemands
installes chez nous, qui nous exploitent ou nous espionnent, et, soumoisement ou cyniquement,
preparent la conquete de notre pays qu’ils pretendent achever demain par les armes.294
The need for eternal vigilance against the German menace was down to their innate
character. The Moniteur du Puy-de-Ddme took a similar line, arguing that no amount
of naturalisation could alter a German’s essential nature.
JQC
Paul Gaultier’s book on
the German mentality sought to explain why the French must not be fooled again as to
the tme nature o f Germans, whatever veneer of civilisation they might display.
292 La Depeche, 5 September, 1917.
293 Le Petit Marseillais, 14 October, 1914.
294 Gustave Tery, Les Allemands chez nous, Paris (1918) p. v
295 La Petite Gironde, 1 August, 1916. Le Moniteur du Puy-de-Dome, 23 February, 1917.
86
Sur la foi de Mme de Stael, de Taine et de Renan, nous avons longtemps pris les Allemands pour des
etres placides, doux et honnetes, sentimentaux et reveurs. La guerre de 1870 avait a peine effleure nos
illusions. Nous tenions, en tout cas, ce peuple pour civilis6. II 6tait arrive a un haut degre de science, de
litterature, d’industrie, d’agriculture, de commerce. II a eu de grands hommes, il en a encore dans
toutes les branches de l’activite humaine. [...] Eh bien! les premiers actes de ses armees en debouchant
sur la terre etrangere furent des actes d’horreur, des crimes sans nom et, ce qui d£passe tout, des crimes
systematiques, des crimes commandes. Des crimes enseignes.296
Just as de Morgan had cautioned against being taken in by the superficial trappings o f
civilisation in the Ottoman Empire, Gaultier’s argument suggests that the French
should not be fooled by the achievements o f German civilisation.
For Dr. Berillon, who wrote a book just after the war on the inherent and unchanging
nature o f the races o f the world, these outrages were inevitable as the “noble
preoccupation d’epargner et de proteger les gens desarmes,” was a Latin
characteristic, utterly alien to the German mentality.
7Q 7
Gaultier took a slightly
different line, arguing that although there was always the potential for barbarism
within Germany, it did not always rise to the surface, and had only recently
reappeared.
L’Allemand d’autrefois, je veux dire celui du XVIIIe siecle et de la premiere moitie du XIXe- n’etait
pas moins honnetes et loyal. La simplicity de ses moeurs, que Mme de Stael se plaisait a celebrer, etait,
avec la moderation de ses desirs, la garantie de sa probite, de sa franchise, de sa patience, toutes
qualites qui le firent longtemps rechercher comme le modele des employes.
Mais ceci, helas! est de l’histoire ancienne. Bien avant la guerre, po6sie et conscience avaient a peu
pres disparus de la Nouvelle Allemagne, [...] Presses de jouir et, pour louer, de gagner de l’argent, ils
ont abandonne la vie tranquille pour la fievre des affaires et, avec elle, les vertus un peu vieillottes sus
lesquelles la barbarie ancestrale des Germains demeurait endormies.298
For Gaultier then it was the modernisation o f Germany that, paradoxically, had
aroused the ancestral barbarism o f Germany. Gaultier specifically criticises the
“fievre des affaires”, an attack characteristic of both Catholic and left wing censure o f
Germany.
296 Paul Gaultier, La Mentalite Allemande et la Guerre, (3rd Edition) Paris: Felix Alcan (1918) pp. 1-2.
297 B6rillon, Les Caracteres Nationaux, p. 26.
87
In his history o f the war, Victor Giraud similarly criticised German economic
modernisation in an attack that neatly combined Germany’s scientific advances and
its moral decline in a deeply conservative argument. For him, science had
transformed the material conditions o f life that had remained largely unchanged from
prehistoric times to the nineteenth century. Yet morality had not changed with it,
indeed if anything it had slightly regressed. Hence, there was a rupture in the
equilibrium o f humanity.
Si cette rupture s ’accentuait encore, l’humanite, enlisee dans les soi-disant progres materiels, finirait
par oublier qu’elle a une ame, et, sous pretexte d’industrialisme et d’imperialisme, les peuples
retoumement infailliblement a la barbarie primitive, barbarie d’autant plus barbare qu’elle est plus
savante, d’autant plus meurtriere qu’elle est plus raffinee.
Germany, naturally, was the obvious example of this.
Ivre de science positive, de machinisme et de puissance materielle, l’Allemagne, pervertie par la
Prusse, a voulu soumettre l’univers a son joug de fer; elle a depouille tout scruple, abdique toute
preoccupation d’ordre moral, meconnu tout droit; pour satisfaire ses instincts de proie, elle s ’est ruee
tout entiere au pillage, elle a verse des flots de sang, elle s ’est retrouve l’heritiere des anciens Barbares,
adorateurs des vieux dieux paiens; elle s ’est dechristianisee, elle s’est deshumanisee: cela
volontairement, et d’un common accord.299
This Catholic critique o f Germany for having lost its soul in pursuit o f material gains
is one that was not shared across the French political spectrum. For secular
conservatives in France, while they might deplore many things about their powerful
neighbour to the east, they admired the way that its economy ran. The forgemaster
and advocate o f industrial modernisation Camille Cavallier argued that
En Allemagne, ou le travail est honore, ou l’argent est apprecie ouvertement, sans fausse honte, ou la
natality est infiniment plus grande qu’en France, l’Industrie et le Commerce trouvent facilement les
sujets dont ils ont besoin.300
298 Gaultier, La Mentalite Allemande, pp. 4-5.
299 Victor Giraud, Histoire de la grande guerre, Paris: Hachette (1919-1920) pp. 17-18.
88
In a report made to the Lyon Chamber of Commerce in February 1916, the VicePresident, Morel, noted that they were aware of the foresight of the Germans, their
methodicalness, their ruthlessness at business and, he had to admit, their more intense
working practices.301 Also in 1916, the Chamber of Commerce in Clermont-Ferrand
noted that the Germans had understood, much better than the French had, the
commercial potential o f the thermal industry, and that the industry was well managed
and well regulated.
France Libre argued that before the war, France hadn’t been
able to compete with the industrial development o f Germany and that in the Sarre
after the armistice the productivity o f workers had immediately tripled, due to better
methods o f working.
One thing that distinguishes the French condemnation of the
German “barbarians” from their views o f non-white “savages” is that the latter were
never put forward as possessing customs or practices that the French could learn from.
Despite this, the French did do their best to explain away the technical and
technological advancement o f the Germans. Instead of having real ability for abstract
and original thought, the attribute that set the truly advanced peoples apart, they were
just expert at imitation and o f exploiting their intellectual resources to the full.
According to La Depeche “Les ressources du genie ffan9ais sont incontestablement
superieures a celles du genie allemand. Par malheur, les ressources du genie fran9ais
ne sont pas aussi methodiquement exploitees que celles du genie allemand.”304
Another o f its writers, Dr Toulouse, made the same point two years later, as did the
Petit Marseillais?05 The Ouest-Eclair characterised the German attempts to replicate
the tank as indicative o f a “[r]ace d’imitateurs, sot betail”.306
Paul-Louis Hervier’s pen portraits o f prominent Germans took a similar line. He
argued o f Admiral von Tirpitz that he had an extraordinary capacity for organisation
and imitation, but had nothing innovative to offer. “II n’a rien cree de nouveau, il a
servilement copie la marine anglaise. Alfred von Tirpitz est done pirate deux fois.”
300 Camille Cavallier, L ’Avenir de la France, Paris: Alcan (1918) p.9
301 Chambre de Commerce de Lyon, L ’A pres-Guerre, Lyon: Rey (1916) p. 5
302 Chambre de Commerce de Clermont-Ferrand, Defense et mise en valeur des Stations Thermales
Frangaises. Hotels requisitionnes. Clermont-Ferrand: G. Mont-Louis (1916) p. 2
303 Le France Libre, 19 January, 1920.
304 La Depeche, 9 January, 1916.
305 La Depeche, 17 May, 1918, Le Petit Marseillais, 25 July, 1916.
89
Likewise, the prosperity o f Krupp had supposedly been achieved by copying foreign
inventions.307 According to Giraud, the Kaiser had an intelligence “vive et rapide,
mais superficielle et peu originate,” while German generals lacked military genius,
but were totally in command o f the science o f modem warfare.308 Even in the months
before the war, Hugues le Roux dismissed the intellectual development of the
Germans.
les Allemands fondent plus que tout autre peuple dans le creuset ou les races se melent [...] Ce que les
Allemands ne peuvent changer du jour au lendemain, c ’est leur substance meme, leur peasanteur
physique et intellectuelle, leur lenteur de conception.309
Le Roux did add: “Nous connaissons leur qualites, qui sont hautes,” but only as a
A
precursor to listing all the ways in which they were inferior to other nations.
If the French were not united in their condemnation of German business, they were
much more unanimous in decrying the role of Prussia in Germany’s descent into the
moral abyss. Giraud mentions the influence of Pmssia directly in his anti-modernist
diatribe quoted earlier, while by arguing that Germany lost its way after the midNineteenth Century, Gaultier is also siting that decline at a time when Prussian
influence became dominant. Gaultier also made this argument explicitly.
“La Prusse a, d’aprds moi, non seulement ‘prussifte’ l’Allemagne conformement k un dessin pr^con^u,
mais aussi k la mantere d’un ferment qui transforme un milieu approprte. Elle 1’a ‘prussifie’ en faisant
ressurgir, volontairement mais aussi par exemple, par les promesses echang6es et par une 6tonnante
prosp6rit6 mat^rielle, l’ancien barbare teuton qui dormait, sous le couvert de la civilisation, au cceur de
1’Allemand modeme.”311
It was not just money and Prussia that had corrupted Germany. Their sexual morality
was also considered suspect. The French had associated homosexuality with the
Germans for years as well as the appearance, in 1896, of a book that was entitled
306 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 25 October, 1916.
307 Paul-Louis Hervier, Silhouettes Allemandes, Paris: Editions de “La Nouvelle Revue” (1916) p. 47,
p. 243.
308 Giraud, Histoire de la grande guerre, p. 7, p. 83.
309 Le Petit Marseillais, 27 February, 1914.
310 Le Petit Marseillais, 27 February, 1914.
90
Les Invertis (le vice allemand), and the Eulenburg trials of 1907 helped encourage this
belief.312 Once the war began, books such as Les Invertis were used to popularise the
idea of sexual perversity amongst Germans.313 Gaultier described one of the ways in
which German decadence was occurring as “a cote de la prostitution avouee, faut-il
citer le prostitution clandestine et la prostitution contre nature, qui fait de tels ravages
outre-Rhin”.314 Modernisation had also ensured that normal gender relations were
disturbed in other ways: “le Hausfrau se mourait, tuee par le feminisme et quelques
autres nouveautes. Les femmes, s’ennuyant de rester a la maison, trouvaient tout
naturel de passer le soiree dans les endroits publics.”
Gaultier linked deviant
German sexual practices with their wartime conduct by noting “l’indeniable penchant
TjiT
au sadisme qui est l’un des traits dominants du vice allemand.”
In General
Puyperoux’s account o f his regiment during the war, he described how the Germans
were forced to retreat after the battle o f the Marne, leaving behind huge quantities of
obscene photographs. Similar material was found with their prisoners. “Eh! disent nos
braves gens, c’est cela la fameuse “kultur”! C’est cela l’Allemagne chaste, pudibonde,
la nation elue de Dieu!!”
Here Puyperoux’s indignation seems to be as much about
the pretensions o f the Germans to being a standard bearer for humanity as their
immorality.
There were also attempts to demonise Germans not just as barbaric humans, but also
as literally monstrous, with an appearance and characteristics that were abnormal.
They tended to be portrayed either as decadent Prussian officers or obese and
-1 1 o
grotesque Bavarian peasants.
In both instances, an element o f racial degeneration
appears to underpin the picture. Their assumed rank odour and prodigious appetites
311 Gaultier, La Mentalite Allemande, pp. 26-27.
312 Martha Hanna, “Natality, Homosexuality, and the Controversy over Corydon” in Jeffery Merrick
and Bryant T. Ragan, Jr, Homosexuality in Modern France. New York: Oxford University Press
(1996) p. 203.
313 l a Petite Gironde, 1 August, 1916.
314 Gaultier, La Mentalite Allemande, p. 14.
315 Gaultier, La Mentalite Allemande, p.. 13.
316 Gaultier, La Mentalite Allemande, p. 14.Seealso Jean-Yves LeNaour, Miseres et tourments de la
chair durant la Grande guerre : les moeurs sexuelles des Franqais,1914-1918. Paris: Aubier (2002)
pp. 38-39.
317 Puyperoux, La 3me Division Coloniale p. 26
318 Ruth Harris, “The ‘Child of the Barbarian’: Rape, Race and Nationalism in France during the First
World War” in Past & Present 141 (1993) pp. 182-189.
91
were the subject o f a scientific study by Dr. Berillon during the war and his argument
was summed up by Paul Ginisty in the Petit Marseillais.
L’abjecte goinfrerie, l’odeur fetide des Allemands, leur gout determine pour l’ordure sont tellement
caracteristiques que les hommes de science ont 6tudie ce plaisir trouve dans 1’ignoble comme un
phenomene.319
In his post-war book, Berillon maintained a similar line, talking of “de bromidrose
fetide de la race allemande, l’odeur nauseabonde sui-generis qui s’impose si
peniblement a l’olfaction quand on se trouve en contact avec des Allemands.”320
Norton Cru noted that an unpleasant smell amongst the Germans was “d’un
phenomene mentionnee par presque tous les ecrivains du front et attribue par
quelques-uns, les fanatiques, a la nature bestiale de 1’Allemand.”321 Cru himself
favoured the explanation offered in the journal of Abbe Bessieres, which he described
as the only scientific attempt to explain the phenomenon. “Une insupportable odeur
de suint, de suif, me saisit a la gorge, 1’odeur caracteristique du blesse allemand, due
a l’impermeabilite des habits, qui ne permet pas l’evaporation de la sueur.”322
It must be questioned whether the virulence of anti-German rhetoric espoused in the
home front was shared by the troops. Jewish brancardier Andre Kahn’s war journal
displayed very different attitudes towards Germans in the abstract compared to those
he encountered personally. In captivity on the 27th of August, 1914 he said
A froler chaque jour des Allemands, je commence a ouvrir les yeux et a comprendre qu’ils sont des
hommes tout comme nous. [...] La premiere question est: ‘Vous avez marie? Vous avez des enfants?’
et leur conclusion unanime: ‘la guerre est un fleau! Vite la paix.’ Sages paroles!323
However, once he got back on the front line the hostility returned and on the 10th of
September he lambasted:
319 Le Petit Marseillais, 22 October, 1915.
320 Berillon, Les Caracteres Nationaux, p. 7 (italics in the original).
321 Jean Norton Cru, Temoins, p. 92.
322 Albert Bessieres, Le Train Rouge, quoted in Cru, Temoins, p. 92.
323 Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote, p. 18.
92
Ces cochons d’Allemands ont profite des quelques heures de repit que nous leur accordions pour
enterrer les morts pour bombarder une ville libre! Les salauds! Ils meritent qu’on les extermine
jusqu’au dernier.
tVi
A month later on October 16 he was similarly critical of despicable behaviour from
the Germans: “Ces cochons ont, dans bien des endroits, fait leur besoins sur le visage
et sur la poitrine des morts fran?ais. Quels sauvages!”324 Yet his hostility seemed to
be attenuated when he encountered a German prisoner in January 1915 who “reste
convaincu que l’Allemagne et la France arriveront a s’entendre et, peut-etre un jour, a
s’allier. II nous fait beacoup d’honneur.” Only two days later though, he was again
bemoaning that: “Oh! La sauvage obstination des Boches a aneantir les innocents!”325
Ultimately however, Kahn shared the view of the German prisoner, that Germany and
France were not doomed to eternal enmity and believed that the war would result in
the fall o f the Hohenzollems and a pacific republican Germany.326
Kahn’s lack o f hostility towards German prisoners was not unique. Kamara, a
volunteer from Guinea, noted with surprise and indignation that the French would
“chat and joke and play with their enemies” after capturing them.327 Raymond
Franco’s war journal made several references to “ces maudits Boches” but otherwise
displayed little vitriol towards the enemy.
There may even have been those who
retained positive views o f Germany similar to those expressed in 1921 by Marshal
Lyautey in conversation with the ambassador, Fernet.
Je regrette de ne pas porter Puniforme allemand. C’est aujourd’hui le seul peuple qui ait le sens de
l’avenir, le gout de l’ordre, le consentement & la hierarchie, le sens monarchique, l’instinct de
conservation. C’est sans doute un grand mal que nous avons gagn6 la guerre. Les Anglais sont des
salauds, les Italiens des cuistres. Nous n’avions qu’une chance de nous entendre, de faire un bloc
europeen contre les infiltrations judeo-bolcheviques, c ’etait l’Allemagne. Je ne dis pas 9a a tout le
monde, je regrette de ne pas etre un marechal allemand.329
324 Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote, p. 20. p. 31.
325 Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote, p. 95.
326 Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote, p. 133.
327 Lunn, “Kande Kamara Speaks”, p. 39.
328 Raymond Franco, “Expos6 Joumalier de ma Vie Militaire pendant la guerre 1914-1918” in Marcel
Lachiver (ed.) Contribution a Vhistoire du Val d ’Oise. Aspects de la guerre 1914-1918. Pontoise:
Soci6te Historique de Pontoise (1986) eg. p. 214, p. 215, p. 222.
329 Philippe Gautier, La germanophobie, Paris: Editions Detema, 2nd ed. (1999) p. 46.
93
In fact, outward manifestations o f extreme anti-Germanism were more common at the
rear than at the front. During mobilisation violence was directed against Germans and
Austrian inhabitants o f France and shops owned or believed to be owned by people
from those countries. One German caught up in it claimed “Les Fran9ais etaient
comme fous; ils consideraient tout Allemand comme un espion.”330
The foreigners who would have been expected to be the most loathed were the
German prisoners o f war, who were employed at the rear. There is little doubt that
these men were not well regarded. However, by contrast to the mixed response to the
possible usage o f foreign labour from other countries, they were the objects of
incessant demand. In general, the first preoccupation of almost everyone concerned
with the workforce was the possibility o f utilising underemployed soldiers, or those
on leave. If this proved impossible, then prisoners o f war were considered to be the
next best option, sometimes simply because they were a convenient source of labour.
A report by the departmental sub-committee for economic action in the Haute-Vienne
commented that prisoners were “tres utilement” employed in the department. A
member o f the commission, Viardot, commented that prisoners were required in the
Port de TAurence factory as the work required very robust workers and all capable
French had been mobilised.
The major reason for preferring to employ Germans rather than any other alternative
appears to be that the discipline that employers were able to enforce over the prisoners
of war. Describing the situation in Anjou, the comte d’Andigne explained that
German prisoners were acceptable as they were kept under surveillance “tandis que
les agriculteurs tunisiens devraient etre surveilles par nos fermiers qui s’en defient un
peu.”332 In 1917, an industrialist in Lyon told Swiss authorities that he didn’t want to
see mutual repatriation o f prisoners o f war, because he employed 200 German
prisoners and those who would replace them, whether Annamites or repatriated
330 Jean-Claude Farcy, Les Camps de Concentration Franqais de la premiere guerre mondiale (19141920). Paris: Anthropos (1995) p. 12.
331 AN F /l2/8009/1, 18 April, 1918.
332 Alain Jacobzone, En Anjou, loin du front. Vauchretien: Editions Ivan Davy (1988) pp. 201-202.
94
'X'X'X
Frenchmen, were less “aptes au travail.”
A report by the executive delegation o f the
port commission claimed that the officers in charge of disembarkation believed that
German workers were better:
Avec les allemands, travail 6gal sans qu’il soit rapide, aucune perte de temps dans la releve des equipes
de cale (qui se relevent toutes les 2 heures); aucune querelle. Avec les dockers, travail inegal, le plus
souvent lent, arrets causes par les querelles frequentes surtout l’apres-midi, impossible d’obtenir qu’une
equipe de cale ne quitte son travail qu’apres la descente de l’equipe de releve.334
The Ministry o f Agriculture wrote to the port authorities at Bordeaux suggesting that
the contingent o f German prisoners employed on the docks could be exchanged with
Senegalese workers, because the agricultural productivity o f prisoners of war was
excellent. Those in charge at Bordeaux rejected the idea as ‘Texperience de la main
d’oeuvre exotique pour nos propres operations (chinois et africains) et pour celles des
bases americaines (negres) montre sans contest que sa valeur est loin d’atteindre
meme celle des P.G.”335
The popularity o f prisoners o f war as workers was such that there was great
competetion to acquire their services. The Comite Consultatif d’action economique
for the Rennes region in January 1916 saw the employment of prisoners of war as
essential for forestry work, and complained vehemently at not being granted any extra
German labour.
In the committee for the Nantes region, a M. de Guebriant claimed
that the Midi was getting more than their fair share o f prisoners and that they should
be redistributed towards the Finistere and the Vendee.
There were some cases where hostility towards Germans hindered the usage of
prisoners. The Deux-Sevres committee o f economic action recommended utilising
German prisoners, despite some misgivings.
333 AN F/23/5.
334 AN F/14/11329 14 October, 1915.
335 AN F/14/11329 Correspondence, 17 June, 1918; 26 June, 1918. “P.G.” = Prisoners o f war. This
quotation is also noteworthy because it labels American blacks as exotic, and claims they share the low
productivity o f exotic workers from China and Africa.
336 AN F/12/8008, Comite Consultatif d’action economique, 10th region, January, 1916.
337 AN F/12/8008, Minutes o f meeting o f the Committee o f Economic Action for the 11th Region, 17
95
Certes la repugnance que nous eprouvons a employer ces prisonniers ennemis, a les recevoir chez nous,
a les asseoir a notre table, est bien naturelle et respectable. II se peut que ce soit le meurtrier du pere ou
du fils regrette qu’on r e v iv e ainsi. Mais nous sommes en guerre, et c’est encore faire la guerre
d’employer nos ennemis a reparer les maux qu’ils causent.”338
In the Indre-et-Loire a committee reported that it had been difficult to utilise German
prisoners because o f the “hostilite des cultivatrices”. However, this hostility
O -J Q
diminished when it was seen how useful they could be.
In both these instances the
reluctance to utilise Germans is based upon their status as enemies, rather than due to
doubts over their utility.
Dockers in Le Havre did complain that they had been made unemployed by excessive
use of prisoners o f war. Their complaints were dismissed in the authorities’ report on
the issue, which argued that the number o f unemployed was verysmall,and that as
the port was constantly short o f workers they had to be considered as voluntarily
unemployed. Instead, there were a huge number of demands for more German
captives to be allocated.340
There was even the odd example o f international working class fraternisation. On the
subject o f German prisoners working in French mines, a miner called Lebrun claimed
“Nos patrons sont plus Boche que les Boches. Et puis les Boches sont des ouvriers
comme nous et nos patrons pourraient bien voir un jour Boches et Fran9ais se dresser
contre eux et remonter au jour en chantant ensemble l’intemationale”.341 There are
few recorded examples o f this though.
The employment o f prisoners didn’t imply positive feelings towards the prisoners,
when they were unemployed the Courrier du Centre reported that public opinion
couldn’t understand why German prisoners grew fat in laziness while French
prisoners were forced to work.342 Their utilisation was very much an expedient bom
June, 1916
338 AN F /12/8004, 13 February, 1916
339 AN F/12/8003, Undated, probably from early 1916.
340 AN F/14/11329 14 October, 1915, 27 August, 1915.
341 Max Gallo, “Quelques aspects de la mentalite et du comportement ouvriers dans les usines de
guerre - 1914-1918” in Mouvement Social. 56(1966) p. 11.
342 Courrier du Centre, 17 June, 1918
96
out of necessity and the willingness to use German labour did not continue after the
war. When the newly created Weimar Republic offered the use o f German workers to
help rebuild the war tom areas in the North East of France, the French government
turned them down. Chanvin, the national secretary of the builders’ federation,
summed up their objections:
Les camarades allemands ne comprennent-ils done pas qu’il est impossible pour le moment, en raison
des ressentiments manifestos par la population des departements qui ont Ote martyrises par la guerre, de
faire travailler des ouvriers allemands et fran?ais les uns a cote des autres?343
On occasions, it proved useful to laud certain people o f German extraction, which
may have led to some nuancing o f a universally negative view. For instance, it was
noted in an article on French successes in Morocco that the German legionnaires had
not deserted despite the promptings o f the German army, implying that even Germans
could be tamed by French leadership.344 Americans of German origin, while usually
considered suspect, were also sometimes described as being right thinking.
Les Americains d’origine allemande, arborent ces maximes ‘N£s en Allemagne, mais faits en
Am^rique, nous ne connaissons qu’une patrie, la patrie am&icaine. Nous voulons terminer ce que nos
ancetres commencdrent en 1848: nous souhaitons la victoire des Allies avec la liberation Allemande.
[...]
Les Americains d’origine allemande donnerent ainsi a 1’ennemi qui osa les revendiquer comme siens,
un ecrasant dementi.345
Ferri-Pisani commented that German-Americans were prominent amongst workers
making arms for sale to the allies, resistant to propaganda suggesting they down
tools.346 It was also reported that German-Americans in the US army had unleashed a
torrent o f abuse at some German prisoners. One of the insults used focused on their
“participation a cote des Prussiens au combat qui se livre contre toutes les peuples
honnetes du monde”.347
343 Schor, L ’Opinion Frangaise et les Etrangers, p. 84.
344 L ’Eclair du Midi, 1 January, 1918.
345 La Depeche, 6 July, 1918.
346 Ferri-Pisani, L ’Inter et et I ’ideal des Etats-Unis, p. 18
347 L ’Eclair du Midi, 17 June, 1918 German-Americans continued to be regarded with scepticism
97
The rhetorical device o f separating the Prussians, who were beyond redemption, and
other parts of Germany which were not necessarily as intrinsically barbarous, was
used by Pierre Mille to justify a rejection o f American offers to mediate between the
warring powers, on the grounds that the Allies sought the elimination of Prussian
hegemony in Germany and this couldn’t be achieved by mediation.348
Gabriel
Seailles made a similar argument against a negotiated peace in 1918 saying that such
a peace would be a victory for Prussian militarism, proving her invincible force. It
would be enough to “strangle in the German people all spirit of revolt, to justify their
pride and their confidence in their masters.”349 The historical consistency of this idea
can be illustrated by the argument o f Brossolette in his history o f the war: “La Prusse
[...] n’etait pas un peuple, mais une armee. Ses hobereaux, demiers debris de la
feodalite europeenne, sont des officiers nes. Son roi etait avant tout un chef de guerre.
[...] Elle a, depuis 1870 surtout, fa9onne TAllemagne a son image,”350 Here
Brossolette was echoing Mirabeau who had argued “La Prusse, ce n’est pas un peuple
qui a une armee; c ’est une armee qui a un peuple.” The continuing popularity of
Mirabeau’s view is also illustrated by the same quote being used by the Petit
-if i
Marseillais in January 1914, before the outbreak of hostilities.
A postcard from
1917 also quoted Mirabeau along similar lines: “La Guerre est Tindustrie nationale de
la Prusse”352
The theory o f a malign Prussian influence became more common after the war, with
the occupation o f the Rhineland. Edouard Clunet, musing on marriages between
French soldiers and German women in the occupied Rhineland argued that “En ce
moment, la Rhenanie est l’objet des prevenances fran9aises; elle ne les dedaigne pas.
Cette province qui n’a ete prussienne que par accident, est demeuree fortement
impregnee de culture celtique. Sa conquete, non par le force, mais par le sourire, n’est
though even if it was less than before the US entered the war. For instance, in the 1916 Presidential
election, Wilson’s victory over Hughes was argued to be a good thing by the Depeche because Hughes
was alleged to have gained a disproportionately large amount o f the German-American vote. La
Depeche, 11 November, 1916.
348 Le Petit Marseillais, 2 December, 1916.
349 Gabriel Seailles, La Paix Blanche, Paris-Nancy: Berger-Leverault (1918) p. 7.
350 L. Brossolette, Histoire de la Grande Guerre, Paris: Armand Colin (1919) pp. 5-6.
351 Le Petit Marseillais, 19 January, 1914.
352 Laurent Gervereau and Christophe Prochasson (eds.), Images de 1917, Nanterre: Bibliotheque de
98
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pas irrealisable.”
Barres and others also argued for the separation of the Rhineland
from the rest o f Germany due to the population’s Celtic origin, Catholic faith and
Latin culture. Gabriel Hanotaux argued on 11 November, 1918 that “The populations
west o f the Rhine, more Celtic than Germanic, must be freed from Prussian
tyranny.”354 Plenty o f others disagreed though and this subtle distinction was not
much used in wartime, with the Petit Marseillais dismissing the idea that France might
regain the left bank o f the Rhine. “Nous ne chercherons pas a les annexer de nouveau.
Que ferions-nous de populations gangrenees par un siecle de kultur modeme?”355
Although the Prussians were consistently more demonised than the average German,
it was more common to argue, like Gaultier, that the rest o f Germany had been
willingly led by Prussia.
Que ce vertige d’orgueil et de rapacite qui emporte l’Allemagne et donne a la guerre qu’elle nous fait
son particulier cachet d’horreur et de ferocite soit du a l’influence de la Prusse, la chose est indeniable.
II ne faudrait pas, neanmoins, s’imaginer que la reunion des Etats allemands au royaume de Prusse
fasses simplement figure de mariage force. II y eut, ce me semble, quelque inclination dans leur cas.356
Other writers went further, arguing that it was false to suggest that any Germanic
people could have positive characteristics. Dominque Durandy wrote how Bavaria
had attracted much admiration in France in peacetime, whilst the French were
repelled by the Prussian provinces “de crainte de heurter trop de moustaches
herissees”. The bonhomie o f the Bavarians, their sunny outlook on life, their affable
manner and their great capacity for gastronomic consumption were all praised by
those returning to France. However, the war had shown this picture of the “bons”
Bavarois to be false. “Nous le voyons, maintenant, en pleine lumiere. Ils sont
Allemands jusqu’au bout des ongles, ces engloutisseurs de biere ces idolatres de
Parsifal.”
'lcn
.
Nonetheless the possible separation of German and Prussian mentalities
documentation intemationale contemporaine (1987) p.21.
353 Le Temps, 7 January, 1921.
354 Walter A. McDougall, France’s Rhineland Diplomacy, 1914-1925; The Last Bidfor a Balance o f
Power in Europe, New Jersey: Princeton University Press (1978) p. 17, p. 37
355 Le Petit Marseillais, 29 March, 1917.
356 Gaultier, La Mentalite Allemande, pp. 24-25.
357 Le Petit Marseillais, 1 July, 1915. This can be compared to an article by Jacqus Pericard, printed
in 1919, which claimed consistent hostility between Bavaria and Prussia. Le Petit Marseillais, 11
April, 1919.
99
was available as a tool when required, affirming again the flexibility of assumed
nationalistic characteristics in French racial rhetoric.
While almost all commentators were agreed that the German people were currently
entirely reduced to a state o f barbaric savagery and loathing of the French, there was
some debate as to whether this was the eternal condition of Germany, or whether it
was the malign influence o f the Prussians, the Hohenzollems or Pangermanism. For
conservatives like Giraud there was a simple answer
Et nous disons bien: l’Allemagne; nous ne disons pas: l’Empereur allemand, ni meme le parti
pangermanistes. [...] L’Allemagne pensante, l’Allemagne laborieuse, l’Allemagne religieuse, aussi
bien que l’Allemagne industrielle, commerciale, politique, financiere ou militaire, [...] toute
PAllemagne, en un mot a voulu la guerre. [...] Cette unanimite de la volonte allemande s ’explique a
son tour par des raisons ethniques et historiques.358
The Hohenzollem dynasty had shown throughout history that they were unscrupulous
•
^ CQ
and warlike, with the single aim o f increasing the standing of their house.
However,
Giraud didn’t believe that they could have created the monstrous dream of world
domination except in a people “dans lequel 1’infatuation du succes, l’orgueil
endemique, le brutalite innee, la soif des jouissances materielles ont aboli tout esprit
de finesse, et surtout, tout sentiment d’humanite et toute preoccupation morale.”
Octave Aubert made a similar argument in L ’Ouest-Eclair. It was not sufficient
simply to change the leadership in Germany. “Au demeurant, il ne peut dependre au
souverain de changer fam e de son peuple; c’est lui qui s’adapte a la mentalite de ceux
qu’il guide.” He went on to argue that “tous les Allemands voulaient la grande guerre
de liquidation, tous nous jalousaient, tous nous detestaient [...] Les assassins n’ont
pas obei seulement a des ordres, mais a leur instinct, a leur haine, a leur ferocite.”
Pangermanism was also regularly singled out for blame. Octave Uzanne argued that
the Germans were under the spell o f Pangermanism, which had been growing in
influence since the mid-nineteenth century. Nevertheless, he did not neglect to
358 Giraud, Histoire de la grande guerre, p. 2.
359 Giraud, Histoire de la grande guerre, p. 3.
360 Giraud, Histoire de la grande guerre, p. 17.
100
mention they were descendants of the “Cimbres” and the Teutons.362 The other
historical inheritance the Germans were held to be subject to was the Huns. “Que les
Allemands aient une mentalite de barbares et que leur kultur ressemble a celle des
Huns, que le Kaiser rappelle Attila, nul ne le conteste plus depuis longtemps.”
For
Gaultier, pangermanism was a religion, which explained the “incendies d’eglises, des
bombardements de cathedrales, des assassinates d’ecclesiastiques et des tortures
infligees a des pretres, des viols de religieuses et des sacrileges de toutes categories”
committed by the Germans during the war.364 The activities of the troops o f the
Habsburg empire were usually ignored in the French press, but when they were
alleged to have committed atrocities, then they too could be put under the banner of
“Barbarie Teutonne”.365
If the influences o f pangermanism, Prussia and the Hohenzollems had all led to a
decline in the moral state o f the German population, the general current of opinion
towards Germany suggested that they were only the modem manifestation of an
eternal desire to vanquish the French. Karl Marx’s internationalism, according to
Mauclair’s critique in La Depeche, was “la preponderance du travailleur allemand sur
tous les autres, une conquete economique parallele a la conquete militaire.” Marxism
was the sociological form o f armed pangermanism. “II a ete, dans toute la force du
terme, un Allemand, c’est-a-dire un concentrateur d’execration seculaire contre notre
race.”366 Haraucourt in the same newspaper claimed that even defeat in the war had
not extinguished this eternal ambition.
Tout comme au temps de Jules Cesar, la caracteristique de Tame allemande est double, brutalite et
perfidie. Aussi longtemps que TAllemagne a pu croire au succes, elle fut unanime a vouloir nous
aneantir; aujourd’hui, meme dans la discorde et malgre la guerre civile, TAllemagne vaincue reste
unanime a vouloir nous rouler.367
361 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 1 September, 1916.
362 La Depeche, 5 April, 1918.
363 Le Petit Marseillais, 25 March, 1918.
364 Gaultier, La Mentalite Allemande, pp. 65-66.
365 Le Petit Marseillais, 9 July, 1916.
366 La Depeche, 18 May, 1918.
367 La Depeche, 18 January, 1919 (emphasis in the original).
101
Both Gaultier and Berillon made repeated reference to the heinous conduct of the
Germanic tribes that had plunged Europe into the dark ages. For them such behaviour
was an inescapable part o f the German mentality. “II convient, en effet, de ne pas
oublier tout ce que Vantique Teuton, ancetre de nos modemes ennemis, represente
d’orgueil feroces.”368 Gaultier ultimately concluded “II (Germany) est barbare et il
est, au fond de lui, naturellement cruel.” Moreover
II n’est pas un seul Allemand qui ne soit convaincu, de nos jours, qu’entre lui et le reste du genre
humain existe le meme abime qu’entre le surhomme que Nietzsche appelait de ses vceux et l’homme
vulgaire.369
An article in the Petit Marseillais quoted Lord Broughton on the cruelty displayed by
Bliicher’s officers in 1815, as proof that “cruaute, esprit du mal, absence de tout
sentiment de generosite sont dans la nature meme du Prussien.”
La Depeche believed that “Dans TEurope de demain, il restera, planant sur nous, une
haine et une menace qui durent depuis la mort de Charlemagne, et qui n’abdiqueront
^71
point;” As Emile Bergerat summed it up, “La question boche n’est pas une question
777
sociale, c’est un probleme ethnique [...] L’Allemand d’hier est celui de demain.”
The idea that the German willingness to war could only be ascribed to an
unconscious, innate desire to crush the French on the way to world domination was
nearly universal. Brossolette in seeking to explain the German desire for war as an
attempt to gain extra land and resources, in order to enrich themselves, was an almost
unique attempt to offer a rational explanation.
Instead, arguments were made such
as the theory o f Jacques Riviere and Pierre Mille that “L’Allemand n’a d’abord ni
desirs ni reves, ni amour ni haine, ni plaisir ni degout, ni passions d’aucune sorte. Au
point de vue de la sensibilite, il est nut.”374 Furthermore
368 Gaultier, La Mentalite Allemande, p. 5, Berillon, Les Caracteres Nationaux, pp. 32-33.
369 Gaultier, La Mentalite Allemande, p. 117, p. 45.
370 Le Petit Marseillais, 15 September, 1915.
371 La Depeche, 16 July, 1918.
372 La Depeche, 8 July, 1919.
373 Brossolette, Histoire de la Grande Guerre, pp. 1-4.
374 La Depeche, 30 January, 1919 (emphasis in the original).
102
L’Allemand distingue difficilement entre les categories du beau et du laid, du bien et du mal, du vrai et
de faux. II sait qu’elles existent, mais il ne les sent pas. Et alors il est porte a ne les connaitre que sous
la categorie du ‘possible’. Ce qui est possible est bien, ce qui est impossible est mal.” 375
When asked to describe the contribution o f black troops to France during the First
World War, Colonel Edouard Requin used as an example a cartoon that had appeared
in 'L'lllustration' representing a Senegalese soldier guarding some German prisoners.
The soldier said with a smile to a visitor who approached to see the prisoners: “I
'inf.
suppose you have come to see the savages, is it not so?”
A variation on this theme
was a story in the Petit Marseillais which was entitled “Pioupiou fran9ais et Officier
allemand”. It told o f a small soldier who was guarding some highly ranked German
officers. He said to one o f them “Tu sais, mon vieux, a Berlin, tu peux faire ce que tu
veux; mais, ici, c ’est moi le maitre, et je te defends de mettre les pieds sur la
banquette.”
^77
Just as the Germans are diminished by being subject to a small
Frenchman, being under the control o f nominally inferior races has a similar effect.
The idea that the war demonstrated to the French that the heroic soldiers from their
African colonies were not savages, at least not compared to the barbaric Germans, is
one that was commonly articulated during the war, although it faded with the
withdrawal o f both colonial and German troops from French soil. Requin argued that
the French had delivered Africans from barbarism and given them civilization and
justice; it was their duty in turn to defend that justice and civilization against Prussian
barbarism.
^70
In La Depeche, news from Germany was regularly headlined “Au Pays
des Barbares”.
^70
However, a closer examination of usage of terms like “savages” and
“barbarians” shows the different ways in which they were applied to Africans and
Germans, and the way that pre-war assumptions were maintained throughout the
conflict.
375 La Depeche, 30 January, 1919 (emphasis in the original).
376 Scott: Scott's official history o f the American negro in the world war. The Illustration image
inspired a similar postcard with the subtitle “Ti viens voir sauvages”. Michel, L ’Appel a LAfrique,
appendix. The black soldier himself looks smart and amiable with no traces o f savagery, the Germans
in the background look subdued rather than ferocious. This illustrates the need for flexibility in the
discourse on savagery, where the postcard sought both to condemn the Germans as savage, but
simultaneously to reassure the public that neither German prisoners nor colonial soldiers represented a
threat.
377 Le Petit Marseillais, 24 September, 1914.
378 Scott: Scott's official history o f the American negro in the world war.
103
When the Germans were accused o f savagery, the French generally were referring to
what was perceived to be breaches o f the ethics of modem civilisation. Primarily it
referred to the rapes and infanticides that were believed to be rife in occupied France,
but it also extended to issues like the shelling of churches and cathedrals and the use
of poison gas. “Pauvre Nancy! La sauvagerie teutonne s’achame sur elle...” wrote
Kahn.
io n
M. Pimpemelle, mayor of the commune of Longueville, lambasted the
Germans as “veritables barbares” who had utilised every possible way to destroy the
French, not just heavy artillery, incendiary bombs, poison gas and so on but also “ils
ajoutaient encore 9a et la des procedes sauvages destines a terroriser ceux que leurs
TOI
coups ne tuaient pas.”
Theodore Botrel’s song En passant par ton Berlin promised
that the French would invade Germany as France had been invaded, but that in this
case the French would not bombard German churches or slaughter their elderly and
'IDA
their children.
The Depeche described the Germans as “barbares” for attempting to
bomb the church o f Saint-Apollinaire-Nova in Ravenna.
TOT
In Puyperoux’s account of
the war, the section entitled Les Barbares described the damage done to Reims by the
German army. He also attacked the Germans for their use of gas, describing them as a
barbarous people, without pity, heart, loyalty or scruples.
Even in a book which
was devoted to France’s munitions factories, Maxime Vuillaume still managed to rail
against
“ces
laches
adversaires,
qui
ont
invente
l’arme
odieuse
de
l’empoisonnement”.385
The German invaders were also consistently considered barbaric for the threat they
posed to French women and children. The women were threatened by the consistent
fears o f seduction or rape by soldiers, with the consequent risk of illegitimate German
babies but also through the demeaning way in which the invaders treated French
379 La Depeche, 11 January, 1916.
380 Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote, p. 211.
381 Fete d ’inauguration du monument commemoratif de Longueville-sur-Aube. Troyes: Imprimerie
Paul Bage (1922) p. 9
382 Nicole Lacombe and Alain Lacombe, Les Chants de Bataille: La chanson patriotique de 1900 a
1918. Paris: Pierre Belfond (1992) pp. 217-218.
383 La Depeche, 15 February, 1916.
384 Puyperoux, La 3me Division Coloniale pp. 196-197, p. 161.
385 Maxime Vuillaume, Dans les Usines de la Guerre, Paris: Rouff (1917) p. 31
104
women.386 One of the outrages alleged to have been perpetrated by the Germans was
“le cas des femmes et des jeunes filles de la region du Nord soumises a la ‘visite’
medicale ainsi que des prostituees”.387 Ruth Harris’s study of the debate over what to
do with the women who became pregnant as a result of being raped by German
soldiers is particularly illustrative o f the impact that a discourse that predicated certain
characteristics as being inherent in Germanic blood, and the potential corruption of
the Celtic-Latin French race by it.388 For some, the only way to preserve French blood
from the degeneration implicit in children growing up in France from German
paternity was to abort them, in the words o f Le Matin to exterminate “without scruple,
the ignoble and criminal chaff which would one day dishonour the pure wheat of our
plains on which blows the wind o f liberty”. The products o f such unions would be
“half-monsters” who could pass on the “virus” o f their ancestry into French society.
The way in which “science” could be used to back up prejudice was demonstrated
again by Dr Tissier, who argued that being impregnated by a German wouldn’t just
• lO Q
contaminate the baby that resulted, but all future children bome by that woman.
Those who argued for the preservation o f the babies emphasised the maternal role,
which they believed outweighed the genetic deficiencies resulting from German
fatherhood. By their nurture and devotion, French mothers could rescue these children
and produce future French citizens. Others sought to use these children for retribution.
What better revenge to exact upon the cruel barbarians than for the fruit of the
outrages to grow up to be a proud citizen o f their enemy.
The government solution was to allow the women to come to Paris either to give birth
or just afterwards, whereupon the babies would be given a false birth certificate and
placed under the care of the state. The women would need a statement from a local
magistrate testifying to the otherwise impeachable sexual respectability. As Harris
argues, this course reflected a triumph o f social norms over racial ones. The removal
of the bastard child from the family spared it dishonour and the costs of raising the
386 For these debates see especially: Harris, “The ‘Child o f the Barbarian’”, Judith Wishnia,
“Natalisme et nationalisme pendant la premiere guerre mondiale” in Vingtieme Siecle 45 (1995) pp. 3039, Jean-Yves LeNaour, “Femmes tondues et repression des ‘femmes a boches’ en 1918” in Revue
d'Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine, 47-1, January-March 2000 pp. 149-158.
387 La Depeche, 30 January, 1919.
388 Harris, “The ‘Child o f the Barbarian’”, p. 195
389 Harris, “The ‘Child o f the Barbarian’”, pp. 195-196.
105
child and its share o f inheritance, while leaving the illegitimate child tainted with its
German blood but unreformed by maternal care to contribute to France’s
degeneration.390
The mutilation o f children, to prevent retaliation when they grew older was also
argued to be common. This filtered in to a discourse that emphasised the planned,
ordered, callousness o f outrages; that these were not random acts of brutality but a
systematic tactic. A similar, though les grisly theme in this discourse was the repeated
reference to the Germans chopping down fruit trees, the implication again being that
while most armies may inflict cruelty for short term military gain, the Germans were
unique in their systematic ruthlessness. Harris notes that as well as the rapes and
mutilations, another common outrage it was alleged was prevalent amongst the
Germans was the pillage o f rings, particularly wedding rings. Again this symbolised
cruelty and depravity o f the German soldiers, but additionally it served to damn the
complicity o f their womenfolk (who were said to be behind the practice), and the
damage that materialism had wrought upon German society.
t
For all this brutality, the idea that the German people needed to be educated up to the
French level o f civilization, a common theme where the colonies was concerned, was
absent. Their barbarism was demonstrated by their use of modem technology in the
services of this brutality. Paul Cambon wrote to his brother in Febmary 1918 about
the bombing o f Paris that to “massacrer des femmes, des enfants, et des habitants
paisibles d’une hauteur de 3,000 metres c’est un progres dans 1’abomination dont
seuls des Boches etaient capables.”
Similarly, Charles Andler argued
Ce qui fait la scandale du monde, c ’est que ce soit un peuple si haut place dans civilisation, qui ait la
responsabilite de la presente guerre, et d’une poursuivie par les methodes d’atrocite scientifique et
premeditee que nous y voyons appliquees.393
390 Harris, “The ‘Child o f the Barbarian’, p. 199.
391 Harris, “The ‘Child o f the Barbarian’”, pp. 184-6.
392 Paul Cambon, Correspondance 1870-1924, vol. 3, Paris: Grasset (1946) p. 220.
393 Charles Andler, Ce Qui Devra Changer enAllemagne, 2nd edition. Paris: Editions de Foi et Vie
(1918) p. 2.
106
When Paul Gaultier spoke o f the German’s “barbarie scientifique”, he saw science
purely at the service o f barbarism.394 A former colonial soldier, Broussard, writing to
a contributor o f La Depeche Coloniale, made the point explicitly when he compared
the war with colonial battles.
Cette fois, c’est autre chose. Ce sont bien encore des sauvages que nous avons devant nous, mais des
sauvages contre nature: les negres sur qui j ’ai fait le coup de feu autrefois n’etaient que des primitifs,
les germains qui nous attaquent maintenant sont des barbares, ce qui est bien different.395
While the description o f the Germans as barbarians was usually in reference to some
horror they had committed (or were alleged to have committed) during the war, the
concept of the Germans as barbarians was one that was easily accessible to the French
in 1914, not one that only developed over the course o f the war. In the Petit
Marseillais L. Faber wrote as early as the 5
tVi
of August 1914 o f “les barbares
allemands” while the next day an article describing German surprise at the strength of
French resistance was headlined: “L’Etonnement des Barbares”. Explanation of who
the barbarians might be was evidently superfluous.
On 8 August, Henri Bergson
declared that the war against Germany was the struggle between civilisation against
barbarism as “la brutalite et le cynicisme de l’Allemagne, dans son mepris de toute
^07
justice et de toute verite, une regression a l’etat sauvage.” Ruth Harris has argued
that the experience o f occupation in 1870-1, particularly in the Eastern Provinces
meant that the Germans had “already been portrayed as brigands, looters and rapists
-> q o
even before the conflict o f 1914 began.”
The continuity in antipathy dating from
the Franco-Prussian war is also illustrated by Antoine Court’s analysis of Emile
Zola’s writings. In 1872, Zola disparaged a book collecting songs sung by German
troops in the Franco-Prussian war as “cote naif et rude, exquis parfois dans la
grossierete”.399 Zola’s continued rancour was exhibited twenty years on in La
Debacle, and in 1892, Zola responded to a letter written to Le Figaro by a Bavarian
394 Gaultier, La Mentalite Allemande, avant-propos, p. 105. This was a common theme in the
newspapers as well, for instance: Le Petit Marseillais, 4 October, 1914.
395 La Depeche Coloniale, 9 September, 1914.
396 Le Petit Marseillais, 5 August, 1914, 6 August, 1914.
397 Lacombe and Lacombe, Les Chants de Bataille, p. 163.
398 Harris, “The ‘Child o f the Barbarian”’ p. 180.
399 quoted in Antoine Court, “Zola et l’Allemagne” in Stephane Michaud (ed.) L ’impossible
semblable: Regards sur trois siecles de relations litteraires franco-allemandes. Paris: Sedes (1991) p.
99.
107
criticising the book as “un plaidoyer brutal pour la dangereuse illusion des beautes de
la guerre, une hypocrite constation du triomphe des races germaniques sur les races
latines”.400 Zola didn’t believe he was alone in his hostility to Germany and, in 1899,
pondered on why there hadn’t been war for thirty years between France and Germany,
“malgre la haine qui est restee longtemps si vive entre la France et Allemagne”. He
concluded this represented a rejection o f war itself.401
The French belief seemed to be that the Germans, while nominally a civilised
European nation, would always be betrayed by a brutal, militaristic streak, a
characteristic displayed in the past by the annexation o f Alsace-Lorraine. This was not
to say that German civilisation was normally equally to that of France. Instead, a
distinction was frequently drawn between German “Kultur” which may have
approximated civilisation but lacked some o f the essential components. Giraud argued
that in choosing between France and Germany, Spain had to choose between
Germanic “culture” and Latin civilisation.402 The Petit Marseillais claimed that
German atrocities should not be seen as acts o f a Franco-German war, but “des faits
de guerre ‘kulturo-civilisee’.”403 Gaultier believed that German civilisation was “toute
materielle”.
When used to describe Germans, the word savage was always entirely pejorative.
Used to describe black Africans this was not always the case. Alfred Guignard, a
French soldier who served in West Africa described going into battle with black
troops: “My strapping lads ran, despite my best efforts, quicker than me, large white
grins on their black faces, shouting at the top of their voices war cries that were
savage and comic. Oh, that o f Sergeant Bilali.”404 Before the war, General Henri
Bonnal spoke enthusiastically o f black troops and “their savage impetuosity in attacks
with the bayonet.”405
400 quoted in Court, “Zola et 1’Allemagne” pp. 91-92. Notice again the emphasis on the racial
difference between Germanic and Latin peoples.
401 quoted in Court, “Zola et 1’Allemagne” p. 103.
402 Giraud, Histoire de la grande guerre, p. 25.
403 Le Petit Marseillais, 15 January, 1916.
404 Guignard, Troupes noires, p. 170.
405 Lunn, “Les Races Guerrieres” p. 525.
108
When Germans and black Africans interacted, the distinctions were made clearer. In
the caricature mentioned in the introduction, where the German prisoner who fears
being eaten is reassured by a black soldier, who tells him “Don’t worry. Li savage, but
Li does not eat unclean things” the message is obvious, Africans are good hearted but
savage, Germans are cultured but barbaric.406 The French view of their colonial troops
was essentially benevolent; they saw the soldiers as good hearted and loyal.
Nevertheless, this view was underpinned by a belief that they were still savage, that
they still lacked many o f the essentials o f civilised life. When they were referred to as
savage it implied backwardness. When Germans were called savage it implied cruelty
and callousness as intrinsic to the German race, but it did not carry the same overtones
of backwardness.
One newspaper description o f colonial troops illustrates the complexity of these
descriptions. “II les montra farouches defenseurs d’Ypres, d’Arras, de Senlis, de
Reims, nos glorieuses cites d’art mutilees par les Allemands, par ces memes
Allemands qui osent encore les qualifier de sauvages.”407 The colonial troops are
“ferocious”, a word very rarely used to describe French troops, who would more
typically be described as heroic. What shows them as above the Germans is that they
are defending civilisation as incarnated by the historical cities of France, while the
Germans display their barbarism by attacking them. In this context, civilisation is
conferred upon the colonial troops not by their actions or their character, but by their
cause.
Moreover, this relatively benign assessment of non-white people only applied in cases
where the Germans were compared directly to French colonial troops. In other
comparisons between Germans and non-Europeans, other races were used primarily
as convenient shorthand for illustrating how low the Germans had sunk. For Giraud,
“Moralement, elle est descendue au-dessous des peuplades negres de l’Afrique
centrale”.408 Pierre Mille quoted approvingly the argument by Jacques Riviere that the
Germans are not cruel by nature “comme chez les Indiens de l’Amerique du Nord, par
406 Pedroncini, “Allocution introductive” p. 19.
407 Le Petit Marseillais, 3 April, 1916.
408 Giraud, Histoire de la grande guerre, p. 747.
109
exemple, qui sont naturellement cruels.”409 The Depeche also dismissed German
criticism o f Britain bringing Japan into the war, for had not Germany allied with “le
Turc degenere”.410 So morally bankrupt were the Germans though, that even the
degenerate Turks were sometimes shocked. An account told how Germans in Syria
had exhumed the bodies o f French soldiers buried in a cemetery, and how this had
angered even the Turks.411
Susan Grayzel notes the argument by Jean Finot in favour of the right of French
women to have abortions in instances where they had been the victims of rape by
German troops. To justify this, Finot described how a European woman had been
captured, raped and impregnated by gorillas in Central Africa. Naturally, she had not
borne the monstrous child o f these animals, and Finot argued that women in Northern
France should be no more compelled to bear the children o f the bestial Germans. As
Grayzel rightly points out, this account not only brings Germans down to the level of
animals but implicitly to that o f colonial men as well.412 In the Chronique Medicale in
1915, a physician made the argument explicit, comparing French women raped by
Germans with white women and black men in the United States. He added that “any
white woman, raped and made pregnant by a Negro, can have herself aborted with
impunity.” French women should be granted the same privilege.413
In Albert Londres’ war reportage in the Petit Journal in 1917, he expressed his
indignation towards German conduct in revealing language, “on permit que le plan de
TAllemagne n’etait pas seulement de nous battre, qu’il etait de nous assujettir. [...] Ils
traiteraient la France comme la Cameroun.”414 While it was acceptable for Africans to
be colonised, it was an outrage that anyone should seek to attempt it in France. A
speaker in a conference about tourism in France also raised the spectre of France
being a mere colony o f her neighbour when he spoke of German domination of the
hotel industry, and said that it was a form of colonisation, and that it was an awful
409 La Depeche, 30 January, 1919, Whether the Germans were indeed cruel by their very nature was
not universally agreed. Gaultier argued that they were: “II est barbare et il est, au fond de lui,
naturellement cruel.” Gaultier, La Mentalite Allemande, p. 17.
410 La Depeche, 18 January, 1916.
411 La Depeche, 5 January, 1916.
412 Grayzel, Woman’s Identities at War, pp. 58-59.
413 quoted in Harris “The ‘Child o f the Barbarian’” p. 195
110
prospect to imagine being colonised by the Boche.415 Paul Forsans, President of the
FUnion des Interets Economiques, seemed to see immigrants from other races as little
better than the German invaders: “Apres avoir libere notre sol de la souillure teutonne,
allons-nous compter surtout sur la main d’oeuvre noire ou jaune pour cultiver nos
champs?”416
Allied Nations
The allied soldiers who were fighting with the French, on French soil, naturally
received a good press, regularly having their attitude and their actions praised. If they
were not believed to be quite as heroic as the French soldiers, they were almost there.
However, while the Allied armies were very rarely criticised by French newspapers
for any failings, they didn’t receive anything near the adulation accorded to the
French troops. This was reflected in a postwar discourse that granted the allied armies
only a minor part in the glory o f victory. This discourse is exemplified by the speech
of M. Pegon, the mayor o f Artaix at the inaugaration o f its monument to the war dead.
“Les nations alliees, il est vrai, nous ont apporte leur concours” he acknowledged, but
it was the French who, in November 1917 “arretetent le desastreux recul des armees
italiennes et leur permirent de reprendre Toffensive”. It was the French also who, at
critical moments, “encadrait les Anglais dans leur attaques et empechait leur retraite
trop facile”. M. Damiron, the treasurer for the monument made a similar point “Les
Anglais ont pu flechir, les Italiens ceder a la panique, le Poilu de France n’a jamais
recule.”417 These comments are also significant as they suggest that by 1922 the
contribution o f France’s allies was beginning to be seen as roughly equivalent,
whereas during the war the British contribution was valued much higher than that of
the Italians.
Some areas of concern arose regularly. The British, and particularly the American,
soldiers were much better paid than the French, which led to considerable
414 Albert Londres, Contre le bourrage de crane. Paris: Arlea (1998) p. 10.
415 AN F/12/8009, October 1917
416 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 14 June, 1917.
Ill
'
^IO
resentment.
Not only did the greater wealth of these soldiers create feelings of
jealousy, they also pushed up prices in areas where the allied troops were stationed.
Perhaps most seriously o f all, the French resented it when this wealth was used to
impress or seduce local women. These issues were largely kept in check as long as the
French believed that their allies were doing their duty at the front, but when this was
not believed to be the case, then criticism could be severe.
For those who did not believe in the war, it was easier to reveal prejudice towards the
Allied countries. One pacifist pamphlet decried France’s allies thus:
A bas TAmerique qui veut nous aider parcequ’elle craint des milliards engages et non par
desinteressement comme elle le dit [...] A bas l’Angleterre notre ennemie hereditaire qui a voulu et fait
la guerre parcequ’elle craignait pour elle meme la puissance de TAllemagne et qu’elle veut etre seule a
dominer le monde!
419
The criticisms here o f perfidious Albion, determined to manipulate the continental
balance o f power to preserve her own hegemony and a money oriented United States
are ones that had a long history in France. While the vast majority of the populace did
support the war, and thus welcomed the support of the Allies, it is likely that many of
them retained some o f the suspicion towards the allied nations expressed here.
The regard that allied nations were held in was closely linked to the contribution that
the nation was believed to be making towards the war. Just as with the colonial
soldiers, the French could forgive a great deal if they thought that foreigners were
helping them win the war. Craig Gibson mentions one letter picked up by the French
censors from September 1918, when the Allied offensive was making real gains, that
praised the Australians as good men “even if they plundered my property”.420 The
Italian contribution was never particularly highly regarded, and Italian soldiers were
widely referred to as Maquaroons (macaronis).421 After the Italian army was routed in
417 Ceremonie d ’inauguration du monument eleve a la gloire des soldats d ’Artaix morts pour la
France pendant la Grande Guerre (1914-1918) Lyon: Rey (1922) p. 9
418 David Englander, “The French Soldier. 1914-18” in French History 1-1 (1987) pp. 57-58.
419 AN F/7/12986/1, July, 1917.
420 Craig Gibson, “Through French Eyes: the British Expeditionary Force and the Records of the
French Postal Censor, 1916-1918 in History Workshop Journal 55 (2003) p. 186.
421 Lovie, Poilus Savoyards p.86, p. 142, Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, p. 76.
112
the battle of Caporetto, the Italians were much disdained for their perceived military
incompetence, and compared adversely to more capable allies such as the English:
“Tout de meme, si les Boches battent les Italiens, depuis Verdun ils ne frottent plus
aux Fran9ais ni aux Anglais.”422 Analysing the mood amongst workers in Lyon in
1918, Merrheim claimed that public opinion was a little hostile to Italian workers
there “en raison de leur revers”. He asserted that popular belief was that, having failed
to fight effectively themselves, Italian soldiers were coming to Lyon to send
Frenchmen to the front instead. Merrheim tried to counter this hostility by contending
that this real reason for the Italians presence was that they were coming to replace
materiel that their army had lost and thus they continued to contribute to France’s
cause.423
The English were generally well regarded, their troops in particular. For the soldier,
Raymond Franco, “Les Anglais sont charmants. A leur egard, nous avons ete tout ce
qu’il y a de plus aimables, et je suis sur qu’ils garderont de nous, un tres bon
souvenir.”424 Maugars commended the “phlegmatic44 English troops.425 However, the
French had long memories o f rivalry with her neighbours from over La Manche from
the Hundred Years War to Fashoda and this led to them consistently questioning
whether their new found allies were fully committed to the conflict. British resistance
to accepting a single Allied command under a French commander was a source of
despair, and the belief that the British were willing to fight to the last Frenchman was
a popular one, particularly before the introduction of conscription and the resultant
increase in size o f the British army in France.426 In March 1916, L ’Ouest-Eclair had
to defend the English against accusations that they had not provided a fair share of
troops.427 On 20 December 1914, Andre Kahn even celebrated the German bombing
o f England because he doubted British commitment.
J’ai entendu raconter par le colonel que les Boches avaient bombarde plusieurs villes anglaises depuis
la cote. Bravo! Cela va donner a reflechir a Messieurs les Allies. Sans doute mettront-ils plus d’entrain
422
423
424
425
426
427
Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, pp. 76-79.
AN F/7/13365, 13 January, 1918.
Franco, “Expose Joumalier de ma Vie Militaire”, p. 234.
Maugars, Avec La Marocaine, p. 15.
Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, pp. 84-86.
L ’Ouest-Eclair, 30 March, 1916.
113
a nous envoyer de renfort et a en finir une bonne fois en jetant en Belgique le million d’hommes qu’ils
nous promettent depuis si longtemps et que nous ne voyons jamais venir.428
In Giraud’s history o f the war, he opined that it was only with conscription in May
1916 that England finally fully entered the war.429 If hostility towards the actions of
the British government and generals usually exempted the soldiers, the reverses
suffered by the English near Amiens in the spring of 1918, and the need for the
French to rescue them, led to renewed criticism. Interestingly, the Australian,
Canadian, and other troops from the British colonies were generally spared this
criticism.430 While in general the English contribution was considered to outweigh the
defects of the English character, it did not eliminate them, as Giraud made explicit.
“Ses lenteurs dans la pensee et dans Faction, ses meprises, son individualisme
ombrageux et souvent excessif, elle a tout compense, tout rachete, et au dela, par la
loyaute, la generosite, l’enormite et la continuity de son effort.”431 In general,
however, the French and British kept their distance, both physically and emotionally
and, as Bell argues, the French and British soldiers rarely talked of the other in
diaries, letters and memoirs.432 When the English nature was examined, their lack of
outward emotion was emphasised. John Charpentier argued that what distinguished
the English from the French was that “Les Anglais doivent peu a la sensation; nous lui
devons presque tout”, while English home life was more formal, more reserved than
its French equivalent.433 This was consistent with a pre-war French idea o f Britain
based around an image o f the undemonstrative, proper English gentleman incarnated
in characters like Phileas Fogg.
The British army also featured non-white soldiers from the British empire, these were
regarded in a very similar manner as French colonial troops. They were popularly
depicted as a terrifying threat to the Germans, for instance a postcard photo of a
British Indian with a knife between his teeth was accompanied by the caption: “Les
428 Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote, p. 77.
429 Giraud, Histoire de la grande guerre, p. 262.
430 Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, pp. 363-366.
431 Giraud, Histoire de la grande guerre, p. 260.
432 P.M.H. Bell, France and Britain 1900-1940: Entente and Estrangement. New York: Longman
(1996) pp. 96-97.
433 Charpentier, Notre Nouvelle Amie L ’Angleterre p. 4, p. 184.
114
Hindous en France - Soldat et son terrible kukri (couteau de guerre)”434 One report
lamented “this is beyond imagination; the English do not want to give us rooms in our
own homes. No one in the area is master in his own home; everyone is more than
unhappy. There are Indian troops; we do not feel safe or secure anymore...”435 There
is a notable difference in the nature o f the complaint, the English are disliked because
they are taking over the area and showing a lack of respect for the French, while the
Indians are considered a physical threat - and the writer felt no need to offer any
further explanation o f that, simply that they were Indians signified a threat.
The real vitriol was reserved for the Russians, after their withdrawal from the war. In
1916, L ’Eclair du Midi described a wildly enthusiastic reception for Russian troops
arriving in Marseille.436 After the peace o f Brest-Litvosk though, this was forgotten.
According to the soldier, Jean, “La defection de la Russie produit la haine contre cette
puissance.” The soldiers were unanimous: ‘Les Russes sont des cochons’.437The most
common term to describe the Russian action was lachage - desertion, while the
Russian people themselves were lambasted as “un ramassis d’ignorants et
d’alcooliques, ceux qui sont intelligentes sont des fripouilles”.438 Russia was
dismissed by Giraud as immense, ignorant and mystical, with a credulous
peasantry.439 The Ouest-Eclair explained the triumph of the Bolsheviks as a result of
“toutes les aberrations d’un mysticisme sans regie et d’une inexperience politique
totale” made by a “peuple d’illettres, tres inferieur, dans l’ensemble, a ce qu’etait
notre France du Moyen-Age”.440 According to La Depeche, the “moujiks” that made
up eighty percent o f the country were an inert mass “sans idee, sans initiative”.441
That this was considered an innate Slavic trait was illustrated by the paper’s praise for
Boris Savinkoff, a former war minister in the Kerenski government. “Savinkoff n’est
pas le Slave indecis, un discoureur abondant et nebuleux, il est un homme d’action
434 Francois Pairault, Images de poilus, la grande guerre en cartes postales, Paris: Ed. France loisirs,
(2003) p. 45.
435 Gibson, “Through French Eyes” p. 183.
436 L ’Eclair du Midi, 22 April, 1916.
437 Jean, Dans les tranchees: lettres du front 1917-1918, Paris: Editions Complexe, (1998) p. 74.
438 Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, p. 73, pp. 74-5.
439 Giraud, Histoire de la grande guerre, p. 457, p. 458.
440 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 28 February, 1918.
441 La Depeche, 16 January, 1919.
115
d’une intelligence lucide, d’une rare energie.”442 The themes of irrationality and
inertia that run through these descriptions are very characteristic of the discourse of
backwardness used by the French to describe non-European races, and Russia was
never seen as having been a full member o f European civilisation.
The invective that was aimed at the Russians after they left the war was exacerbated
by the fact that they had never been held in particularly high esteem, where the same
criticisms o f backwardness recurred. J. de Morgan writing in L ’Eclair du Midi, argued
in May 1917 that they were “des grands enfants, qu’on conduit avec une bonne
parole, devoues, polis, respectueux.”443 He repeated this in his article of 1st June,
1917, arguing that Russian people were guided by their instinct and that “Le russe est
un grand enfant. [...] il est parfaitement incapable d’etre le maitre de lui-meme”.444
Before the war, the Petit Marseillais noted that Russia had only joined the current of
that civilisation in the eighteenth century and was thus still trying to catch up with
Western European civilisation. “En ce qui conceme la formation du caractere,
1’aptitude a apprendre, a gerer le savoir acquis, la Russie est naturellement en retard
sur nous autres, vieux Europeens de l’Ouest.”445 Henri Focillon in 1916 wondered if
Russia was still in its “periode medievale” and claimed that it was still uncertain in its
utilisation o f the administrative and industrial techniques o f the West. Focillon went
on to compare the “fatalisme animal de 1’Orient” with the attitude of the Russians for
whom death is “une verite etemelle qui acheve de s’epanouir.”446
The alliance may have prompted Andre Kahn to find previously hidden virtues in
Tolstoy: “J’ai termine les ‘souvenirs’ de Tolstoi'. Je ne sais pas si c’est par
reconnaissance pour nos allies, mais Tolstoi que je detestais m’est devenu
sympathique”. Nevertheless, he still did not rate the Russians as soldiers; they lacked
endurance and courage, and so he was unsurprised at setbacks for the Russian army in
February 1915.
442
443
444
445
446
La Depeche, 16 January, 1919.
L ’Eclair du Midi, 5 May, 1917.
L ’Eclair du Midi, 1 June, 1917.
Le Petit Marseillais, 7 March, 1914.
Henri Focillon, L ’A me Russe, Conference faite a l’universite de Lyon (1916) p. 4, pp. 26-27.
116
[L]es Russes sont des mauvais soldats. Ils ont le nombre, mais le nombre n’est pas suffisant dans la
guerre actuelle. II faut aussi l’endurance et le courage. [...] Aux Russes nous ne devrons etre
reconnaissants que de n’avoir pas ete ecrases nous-memes des les premiers jours de guerre. C’est deja
quelque chose mais ce n’est pas tout.447
Camille Mauclair noted that “1’opinion soit encline a maudire la Russie” even in
September 1917, before the peace treaty.448 Even when their conduct was praised, it
was ascribed to instinctive behaviour rather than conscious choice. Spont contrasted
the French attitude to children: mitigated by fear of the financial costs, to that of the
Russians, who “envisagent sans effroi les charges qui en resulteront. Ils considerent
les enfants comme la supreme, l’unique recompense en ce monde.”449
La Depeche suggested another problem with the Russian character, that it was prone
to insanity. “Le caractere russe se prete a toute sorte d’exces et a des defaillances
brusques; la solide armature psychologique des races occidentales lui fait defaut450
The Depeche is explicit here in offering a racial basis to this difference between
Russia and the West, not one simply resulting from the late development of
civilisation in Russia. Both the literature and history of Russia was said to testify to
the propensity to madness and impulsiveness amongst the population while their
exoticism was illustrated by the occasional reports of “amazones” serving in the
Russian army 451 The exploits o f these women were recounted in a positive fashion,
but there was no suggestion that French women should do the same. Marthe Dupuy
described the heroism shown by Russian women fighters, arguing: “De tels exemples
de courage et de devouement [...] n’en demeurent pas moins des actes dignes
d’admiration qu’il serait coupable de taire sous pretexte que ce serait folie de les
imiter.”452 While British and American women were largely expected to show similar
traits of behaviour to their French counterparts, the same was not true for Russian
women.
447
448
449
450
451
452
Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote, p. 109.
Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote, p. 39, La Depeche, 12 September, 1917.
Henry Spont, La Femme et la Guerre, Paris: Perrin et Cie, (1916) p. 55, pp. 55-56.
La Depeche, 20 November, 1917.
e.g. La Petite Gironde, 6 October, 1919.
L ’Ouest-Eclair, 16 January, 1916.
117
The United States
Apart from Germany, by far the most important nation in French discourse was the
United States. Before it entered the war, reams of newsprint were devoted to
analysing what its intentions were. Once it had, American soldiers generated far more
interest than any of the other Allied armies.
Generally, the press sought to portray the United States favourably before its entry
into the war, not wishing to antagonise it. However frustration at the inability of the
Wilson government to see that the only reasonable position for the Americans to take
would be to enter the war on France’s side led to increasing criticism. Andre Suares
writing in L ’Opinion in July 1915 argued that “On peut trouver son compte a etre
neutre: il n’y a pas lieu d’en etre fier [...] Les neutres sont malades plus qu’ils ne
pensent [...] Tout ce qui est nation doit etre avec la France.” According to Jusserand,
the French ambassador in Washington, after February 1915 “la tendance en France au
mecontenment et a l’aigruer” against the United States began to manifest itself.453
Landet, the editor o f La Revue hebdomadaire, claimed that his readership was too
fixed in their hostility towards the United States for him to be able to print too many
favourable articles, despite his personal affection for “la grande republique” 454
The two primary criticisms levelled by the French against America were that the US
was taking the opportunity to enrich themselves while France suffered, and that
Wilson’s position o f neutrality was too favourable to Germany 455 The second of these
complaints requires little explanation, as the vast majority of the French saw no
possible reasonable position o f neutrality in the war. The Germans were barbarous
aggressors and anyone concerned with justice had no choice but to oppose them. In
seeking to mediate as a neutral, Wilson, like Pope Benedict, was guilty of at best
falling under the sway o f German propaganda and at worst being a supporter of
Germany. Responding to reports alleging that Henry James had abandoned his
American citizenship, La Revue declared that “il serait en effet etrange que de
453 quoted in Yves-Henri Nouailhat, La France et les Etats-Unis, Aout 1914 - Avril 1917. Lille:
Service de reproduction des theses (1977), p. 674, p. 664.
454 Nouailhat, La France et les Etats-Unis, p. 665.
455 Nouailhat, La France et les Etats-Unis, pp. 666-667.
118
veritable Americains ne soient pas honteux de la politique de faiblesse de leur
gouvemment.”456 This was
characteristic of a discourse, particularly from
conservatives, that primarily criticised Wilson personally for American neutrality.
Hugues le Roux argued that “Les Americains, qui ont beaucoup d’esprit, - un esprit
tres pareil au notre, - ont defini leur president en deux lignes. Ils disent ‘M. Wilson
n’a pas d’ennemis; mais ses amis ne raiment pas beaucoup.’457 According to Le Petit
Journal, “II y a en effet une grande difference entre 1’attitude officielle du
gouvemment de Washington et celle du peuple des Etats-Unis.”
The entry to the
war of the US saw this stance overturned and Wilson received a very favourable
press. 459
The first criticism was equally unsurprising as it comfortably fitted into the popular
French discourse o f the time; that anyone not taking part in the war was profiteering
from it. It also chimed in neatly with a theme from before the war, that American
businessmen were ruthless in their pursuit of money, the only thing that concerned
them.460 An American correspondent in France wrote that “L’impression va
grandissant ici que les Americains considerent la guerre comme etant purement et
simplement une occasion de faire l’argent sans qu’ils aient a tenir le moindre compte
des questions de droit et de principe.”461 L ’Ouest-Eclair spoke of the American army
arriving in France “Hommes d’affaires, ils traiteront la guerre comme une affaire”,
while Ferri-Pisani in his book about the United States described them as a nation of
merchants.462 La Depeche argued that “Pendant que la vieille Europe s’epuise dans
une formidable guerre qui ruine ses ressources et son credit et qui compromet
l’avenir, l’Amerique s’efforce flevreusement de profiter des circonstances favorables
qui s’offfent a elle pour conquerir le marche du monde”.463 Though the United States
was undoubtedly a modem power, the Depeche'’s reference to “old Europe” is a
reminder that America was only the inheritor of European civilisation. La Depeche
also noted demands for Paris to have its lights switched back on again to allow rich
456 quoted in Nouailhat, La France et les Etats-Unis, pp. 671-672.
457 Le Petit Marseillais, 2 April, 1916.
458 quoted in Nouailhat, La France et les Etats-Unis, p. 677 See also pp. 670-673.
459 Nouailhat, La France et les Etats-Unis, pp. 845-847.
460 Nouailhat, La France et les Etats-Unis, p. 73.
461 Nouailhat, La France et les Etats-Unis, p. 666.
462 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 15 June, 1917, Ferri-Pisani, L ’Interet et Videal des Etats-Unis, p. 35.
119
American tourists to enjoy the city’s attractions and observed ironically that this
should clearly take precedence over the security of Parisian citizens.464
A survey of a number of Parisians by the New York Times in February1916 on the
subject of French attitudes towards the US got the following response:
3 claimed to be disappointed, having thought the Americans to be a proud people, they now seemed to
be “une nation de laches”
2 wondered if the US was scared o f Germany
8 condemned the US for lacking courage
1 estimated that the American failure to respond to the deaths o f its citizens in submarineattacks
lessened its standing in the world
12 took a broadly anti-American line
19 didn’t comment
4 approved o f Wilson’s pacific policy and wisdom in avoiding the war
1 acknowledged the difficult position o f the US
3 professed great admiration for the US
5 responded “que tout ce que peut faire 1’Amerique pour gener 1’Allemagne les rejouit”.465
There were still some positive expressions made towards America, largely based on
ideas o f American generosity and the historical links and shared ideals of the two
nations. La Renaissance politique, litteraire et artistique published several admiring
accounts of the US, amongst them Henri Bergson’s view “Ne cherchons pas ailleurs
que dans cette communaute d’ideal et d’idealisme la source de la sympathie profonde
qui a toujours uni entre elles la France et l’Amerique.” For Paul Adam, New York
was “le seuil de la Terre Libre” while Eugene Delard asked “Ne sommes nous pas fils
des memes libertes?”466 In the analysis of Yves Nouailhat, the cultural elite was far
more likely to have a positive view o f the US at this time than the mass of the
population, while Americans themselves preferred to stay in Paris, claiming that antiAmerican animosity was strongly held in the provinces.467
463
464
465
466
467
La Depeche, 20 March, 1916.
La Depeche, 1 January, 1916.
Nouailhat, La France et les Etats-Unis, p. 670.
Nouailhat, La France et les Etats-Unis, pp. 695-696.
Nouailhat, La France et les Etats-Unis, p. 683.
120
Once America entered the war, the trajectory of public opinion towards the American
intervention followed a predictable path. In the newspapers, the arrival of American
troops in France was naturally described in hagiographic fashion.468 However, the
expectations that were raised by the United States joining the war were not
immediately realised, and dissatisfaction grew. The slow introduction of American
troops to the front line led the French infantry to believe that the Americans were
taking the safe sections of the front, and leaving the French to fight the bloody
battles 469 Late in 1917, workers in the Loire-Inferieure were asked if they wanted to
work in the United States. The police reported that not only was this proposition
universally rejected, but it also aroused comments questioning the effectiveness of the
American intervention.470 As late as January 1918, the Moniteur du Puy-de-Dome
commented that some people were impatient at how long it was taking for a
meaningful contribution from the US to be made, although the newspaper claimed not
to share this opinion.471 The idea that American troops were absent from the front
lines inevitably led to speculation as to what else they might be doing, naturally
focusing on the potential corruption of French womanhood.472 “Ils font la guerre a
l’arriere avec les gonzesses” wrote one soldier, while another argued “II faut les
eloigner le plus possible de notre intimite: que de disunions vont-ils semer dans les
families, ou allons-nous?”473 We shall return to this issue later.
Even after the United States did arrive in the war, its wealth caused some problems. It
was feared that the arrival o f American troops in Bordeaux might lead to a rise in
prices.474 By September 1917, a woman called Lili, from Bordeaux, was complaining,
“Malgre les prix qui augmentent tous les jours on achete plus que jamais, les
magasins sont bondes et les rues fort animees, il est vrai qu’il y a beaucoup
d’etrangers, beaucoup d’americains surtout, il me tarde de les voir partir pour le
front...”475 A letter picked up from the censor in January 1919, from a person in
Orange, argued that life could not return to normal until the foreigners left, because
468 e.g. L ’Eclair du Midi, 1 July, 1917.
469 Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, p. 81.
470 AN F/7/13361 Police Reports from the Loire-Inferieure, 1 January, 1918.
471 Le Moniteur du Puy-de-Dome, 1 January, 1918.
472 Kaspi, Le Temps des Americains, p. 129.
473 Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, p. 428.
474 La Petite Gironde, 1 July, 1917.
121
they bought regardless o f the price. A letter from Paris complained of Americans
“munis de beacoup d’argent et d’appetits voraces [...] il en va de meme en province
ou Ton murmure contre ces envahisseurs qui gaspillent autant qu’ils consomment.”476
The high cost o f life was blamed on the Americans not simply because they had more
money, but because they were businessmen by nature. “Ce sont tout simplement des
negotiants deguises en soldats, qui tatent le terrain et posent des jalons pour
Tenvahissement commercial et industriel de Tapres-guerre.”477 This argument placed
the Americans amongst those considered to be profiteering from the war, rather than
amongst those who were sacrificing themselves, which was one of the most
fundamental divisions in French thought.
However, when the American soldiers did arrive in the trenches in significant
numbers they were warmly welcomed.
A "J Q
The censors noted that “L’enthousiasme
envers les Americains grandit a mesure qu’ils prennent part a Taction commune”and
Nicot asserts that, by the advance of 1918, “Les Americains sont en France les plus
populaires des soldats allies, ils sont les grands favoris. On peut estimer qu’il en est
parle dans 30% des lettres au moins.”479 One soldier compared the Americans
favourably to the English: while the Englishman was “une allie; FAmericain c’est un
copain.”480 In general, the American soldiers were found to be more congenial
company than the English, and another soldier wrote that “les Americains sont des
gens remarquables qui se battent en idealistes,” unlike the English, “qui se battent en
commer9ants”. Their generosity was also regularly remarked upon.481 Le Petit
Marseillais produced a supplement, its only one of the war, detailing a conference of
mutual admiration convened to commemorate American Independence Day.482
Crucially, as La Depeche made clear, the American soldiers arriving in France had
immense respect for France and its heroic army.
Recognition of France’s glories
and her efforts in the war was always welcome, and Hugues le Roux tried to deflect
475 Baconnier et al, La Plume au Fusil, p. 333.
476 AN F/23/158 Dossiers du Service de Documentation etrangere concemant la France. Letters
highlighted by the censor, January 1919
477 quoted in Kaspi, Le Temps des Americains, p. 130.
478 Kaspi, Le Temps des Americains, p. 130.
479 Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, pp. 431-432, p. 465.
480 Englander, “The French Soldier. 1914-18” p. 58.
481 Kaspi, Le Temps des Americains, p. 296.
482 Le Petit Marseillais, 29 July, 1917.
122
post-war criticism of Americans by arguing that it was appreciation of France that had
prompted the United States to enter the war. He argued that while England, Italy and
Belgium were forced to join the war, the US chose to do so.
Parce qu’il leur etait insupportable de penser qu’un pays comme la France, qui a port6 si haut le respect
de la dignity humaine, le gout de la fraternity, la passion de la liberte, allait, malgre son h^roisme, etre
ecrasee, s’ils n’accouraient pas a l’aide, sous la botte des soudards du Kaiser.484
Supportive commentators regularly focused on arguing that the US intervention was
not based on calculation. Henriette Perrin’s book aimed at schoolchildren, Nos Allies
les Americains, emphasised that the American intervention was disinterested, for
selfless reasons, while in describing France’s allies, John Charpentier singled out for
special mention “la beaute chevaleresque du geste des Etats-Unis.”
The French were particularly impressed by the physiques of the Americans. Kaspi
recounted numerous positive impressions generated by the appearance of American
troops as they arrived. “II y a des types coustauds (...) Us sont tous jolis”. “Les
gaillards ont Fair allants”. “Ils ont Fair tres robustes”.486 The Moniteur du Puy-deDome praised the qualities o f energy, vigour and improvisation in the Yankee
“race”.487 This impression was so commonly recognised that a medical advert could
ask, in confident expectation o f a positive response, “N ’avez-vous pas ete frappe par
l’etonnante vigueur et la robuste energie des Americains.”488 This was consistent with
pre-war attitudes, which, as Alan Pitt has argued, focused heavily on the energy of
Americans. For Pitt “the word [energie] was to dominate French studies of American
life.489
Nevertheless, there were some elements o f condescension towards the new arrivals, in
particular their enthusiasm, in which the French noted echoes o f their own optimistic
483 La Depeche, 1 July, 1917.
484 Le Petit Marseillais, 16 March, 1919.
485 Henriette Perrin, Nos Allies les Americains, Paris: Larousse (1917) p. 3, p. 11, Charpentier, Notre
Nouvelle Amie L ’Angleterre p. 231.
486 Kaspi, Le Temps des Americains, pp. 128-129.
487 Le Moniteur du Puy-de-Dome, 14 February, 1917.
488 La Depeche, 11 January, 1918.
489 Alan Pitt, “A Changing Anglo-Saxon Myth: its Development and Function in French Political
Thought, 1860-1914” in French History 14: 2 (2001) p. 166.
123
bravado of 1914.490 Eugene Le Breton criticised President Wilson for saying, in his
announcement on entering the war, that the United States had no grievance against the
German people, merely against their leaders.” He noted that the English, “plus
sensibles aux le9ons de l’histoire,” had not made the same mistake.491 When the US
was about to enter the war on France’s side, Jean Guiscard in the Lyon Republicain
argued that it was motivated not by an understanding of the European situation but by
commercial interest and its own idealism.
Les Etats-Unis, nation primesautiere qui regarde l’Europe de loin, n’entendent pas grand’chose aux
details des querelles europeennes. Ils ne connaissent a fond ni l’histoire, ni la geographie. Mais ils
discement tres bien, par contre, l’innovation capitale dont ils ont besoin pour eux-memes; ayant horreur
de la guerre, a laquelle ils preferent des occupations plus morales et plus lucratives, ils veulent que
1’immense majorite des Etats qui composent le monde soient des Etats equitablement satisfaits, qui ne
poss^deront, ni trop peu pour leur app6tit, ni trop pour leur forces, et qui, par consequent, seront k la
fois interess£s et aptes k maintenir la paix.492
While Guiscard’s description is not a particularly hostile one, it does emphasise the
naivity o f the young nation, impulsive and ignorant of history and geography with
utopian ideals.
The Americans were also not spared the recurrent comparison of foreigners to
children, according to one French soldier: “les Americains obeissent a leurs officiers
(qui sont tres gentils avec eux) comme des enfants, ayant en eux une confiance
aveugle.”493 The theme recurred in Ferri-Pisani’s book. He argued that “Yankee
optimism” had no need for reason, but was instinctive “comme tous les gestes d’une
race jeune.” Earlier he had argued that as a “[p]euple a peine adolescent, les yankees
presentent encore les caracteristiques de Tenfance”.494 This didn’t undermine their
effectiveness as allies though.
490
491
492
493
494
Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, pp. 431-432.
L ’Ouest-Eclair, 6 April, 1917.
Lyon Republicain, 12 February, 1917.
Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, p. 435.
Ferri-Pisani, L ’Interet et I’ideal, p. 36, p. 9.
124
Par d’aucuns qui ont regarde cette race yankee sans la voir, j ’ai entendu dire: “Ce sont de grands
enfants.” Peut-etre, mais attendez-les a l’ceuvre, quand, menaces dans leur interet, blesses dans leur
ideal, ils lutteront a nos cotes! Ils seront les grands enfants terribles.495
Even an admirer like Aristide Rieffel, arguing why Americans were so much better at
getting rich than the French had to add the caveat that they lacked any superior
intelligence. “L’Americain s’enrichit parce qu’il a constamment, energiquement, la
volonte d’etre heureux, et parce que Faction est pour lui une joie. II est superieur au
Fran9ais, non par intelligence, certes, mais par une plus grande intensite du vouloir
vivre.”496
However, the one aspect of behaviour in which mistrust was a constant was sexual
behaviour. Huss argues that in popular images of Allied soldiers, while they were
often depicted as sympathetic, they also had the potential to corrupt French women.497
Many postcards later in the war featured “ad nauseam le theme des femmes faciles et
venales” when they encountered American troops. For instance, among the series
“Attraction Parisiennes” one postcard featured a woman lifting her skirt to “montre
ses bas” in front of four voyeurs from each o f the principal allied nations.498
Pourcher describes several incidents where the sexual behaviour of the allies caused
tension amonst the French population, including one in which violence broke out
between French and allied troops over a girl.499 For Mgr. Baudrillart, rector of the
Institut catholique de Paris, the sexual behaviour of Allied troops was a regular
concern. He noted in March 1916 “On evacue beaucoup a d’ecoles de FArtois:
Fimmoralite des Anglais est telle qu’il y a beaucoup a craindre pour les enfants.” In
August, he argued that in Amiens promiscuity and prostitution was rife and that “Les
Anglais depassent tout en fait de debauches.”500 A report by the Nantes Commissaire
Centrale (in October 1918) said o f American troops “II n’y a qu’a circuler quelque
peu dans les rues de la ville, le soir, ou dans la joumee les jours de fete, pour les voir
se promener bras dessus bras dessous, non seulement avec des femmes ou des filles
495
496
497
498
499
Ferri-Pisani, L ’Interet et I ’ideal des Etats-Unis, p. 144.
La Depeche, 7 July, 1919.
Huss, Histoires de famille, p. 209.
Huss, Histoires de famille, pp. 208-209.
Pourcher, La Vie des Franqais, pp. 203-4.
125
majeures, mais encore avec de veritables gamines de 14 a 16 ans.”501 In a letter
written to L ’CEuvre in 1919, one Frenchman placed the two notions of Americans as
ruthless businessmen and successful womanisers. “Certes, nous avons eu le grand tort
d’etre a la Marne ou a Verdun durant que les Americains gagnaient les dollars qui leur
permettent aujourd’hui de seduire bien des cceurs.”
The problem of relations
between soldiers and French women was considered serious enough that the
Americans responsible for the Foyers du Soldat produced a poster, which declared:
“Quand tu paries de la femme
Pense a ta mere
A ta soeur, a ta fiancee
et tu ne diras pas de betises”
Craig Gibson’s study o f British troops in North-Eastern France highlights similar
complaints. One censor wrote that “Many letters of young women, who are in the
English zone write to English soldiers as if they were engaged.” A correspondent
decried the authorities for doing nothing to prevent the “debauchery of women with
troops from all nationalities”. Both romantic dalliances with the troops and amateur
prostitution raised the hackles o f local society.504 This impropriety was attacked by
French women not simply as vice on the part of Allied soldiers at the expense of the
purity o f French womanhood, but also argued that it undermined international female
solidarity by angering women in Britain and elsewhere who had lent their men to the
defence of France and expected them to return morally and physically pure.
There were clearly similar fears back in the United States to judge from a note sent by
the Union of American Women to 1’Association des Femmes de France.
Nous vous envoyons nos maris, nos fils, nos freres pour vous aider dans la lutte contre l’oppresseur.
Mais nous vous demandons ce que votre gouvemement et vous-memes comptes faire pour les
500 Christian Gury, Grande Guerre et Homophilie. Paris: Editions Kime (2000) p. 73.
501 Kaspi, Le Temps des Americains, p. 300.
502 LeNaour, Miseres et tourments, p.258 This quote also testifies to the perceived susceptibility o f
women to favour rich men rather than heroic ones.
503 Huss, Histoires de famille, p. 209.
504 Gibson, “Through French Eyes” p. 181.
126
preserver, et nous le renvoyer, apres la victoires definitive et complete, propres physiquement et
moralement comme ils le sont en nous quittant.505
Occasionally there were attempts to put a more positive spin on it. One journalist
wrote that for American soldiers in France “Les femmes ffan9aises leur paraissent
plus jolies et plus intelligentes que les Americaines. Ils sont emerveilles de voir
l’ordre, la proprete, la coquetterie de nos campagnes.”506 The article continued by
asserting the encouraging possibility o f American immigration into France, reversing
the trend of French emigration towards the Americas. In L ’Eclair du Midi, Jules
Veran took a similar line, taking pride in the attractiveness of French women to
soldiers from English speaking countries. On marriages between English soldiers and
French women he argued, “Elle est tres heureuse, d’autant plus que le melange des
deux races ne peut donner que de bons resultats: vous verrez que le type francoanglais sera tres bien.” Soon, there would be Franco-American marriages, because
“Ce serait bien le diable si les Americains ne se laissant seduire, eux aussi, par nos
ffan9aises. Et nous aurons la douleur de voir nos charmantes soeurs [...] traverser
l’Ocean.”507
Pierre Mille suggested that the Franco-American relationship had begun as a
honeymoon, between mutually admiring democratic peoples. Then the ardour cooled,
the Americans were unimpressed by the perceived rapacity of the French merchants,
while the French found the Americans a little brash and were shocked by American
behaviour towards women. The blame for this could not be laid solely with the
Americans, as they had been confused by the differences in morality between the
sexually liberated women they had encountered in the big cities, and the conservative
morality o f the provinces. Mille argued that
II en existe maintenant, dans nos grandes villes, une classe assez nombreuse, presque speciale a la
France, et pour qui la morale sexuelle a singulierement 6volu6. Sans faire grande attention a ce qu’on
appelle ‘la vertu’ elles considerent qu’elles ont le droit du choix, et, quand elles ont choisi, sans
s’inquieter du mariage, elles n’en exigent pas moins une certaine somme d’egards.
505 Le Petit Marseillais, 14 July, 1918.
506 Le Cri de Paris 28 July, 1917.
507 L ’Eclair du Midi, 4 June, 1918.
127
The American soldiers being “young, unsophisticated and coarse,” mistook this
attitude for prostitution and thus believed all women in France were prostitutes, a
misapprehension which caused much conflict when applied in rural areas which
remained profoundly imbued with a conservative Catholic morality. Indeed, Mille
believed there were no regions in the world where womens’ morals were more
serious. It was a shame, Mille considered, that once these hurdles had been overcome
and genuine understanding was being achieved, that these “jeunes gens braves et
simples” were going back home.508
Mille’s colleague on the Depeche, J. H. Rosny, also drew a distinction between the
conduct of the Americans in the big cities and elsewhere, mentioning in an otherwise
very generous assessment of the Americans, “Leurs moeurs sont vraisemblablement
assez purs; il est difficile d’en juger ici, ou ils sont un peu surveilles; [...] A Paris, ou
les Americains sont moins surveilles, on constate qu’ils ne sont pas insensibles aux
graces de nos peripateticiennes.”509
Edmond Haraucourt argued that the war had revised many opinions. “[LJ’Amerique,
ordinairement consideree comme la patrie du dollar et des hommes pratiques, jetterait
son sang et son or avec un desinteressement absolu, pour venir a notre aide, au nom
de la justice et du droit?”510 However, it should be noted that the stereotype of a
mercenary country, interested above all in enriching itself, reappeared swiftly in the
post-war period. Giraud argued:
II semble aussi qu’a la belle ferveur d’idealisme qui avait souleve tout ce jeune peuple contre l’iniquite
germanique, et qui 1’avait arme comme pour une croisade, ait succede une ‘vague de realisme’ qui
pousserait nombre d’Americains a se contenter de la fructueuse ‘chasse aux dollars’.”511
Giraud was not the only one to display scepticism towards Americans in the
immediate aftermath o f war. A soldier wrote early in 1919 that “Les Americains
commen9ent a fatiguer la population des regions ou ils resident [...] On les trouve
508 La Depeche, 4 July, 1919.
509 La Depeche, 30 July, 1918. Note here also that American troops, just like colonial workers earlier,
are believed to require surveillance in order to ensure their good behaviour ; rather than being able to
exercise self-discipline.
510 La Depeche, 16 July, 1918.
128
•
•
512
sans-gene, prets a s’installer comme en pays conquis, souvent brutaux et primitifs.”
Hugues le Roux, a very pro-American writer who had been in the US for part of the
war, wrote an article entitled “Nos Amis les Americains” in March 1919. While he
was very positive about the US, he noted some of the criticisms made about the
Americans in France.
Vous connaissez le proverbe: ‘Les amis, ils font toujours plaisir, quand ce n’est pas quand ils arrivent,
c’est quand ils s’en vont.’ Eh, sans doute, les Americains ont ete chez nous les utiles ouvriers de la
demiere heure! Mais quoi? Voici la paix. Pourquoi ne se hatent-ils pas davantage de retraverser
l’Ocean? Ils ont trop d’argent dans les mains a depenser chez nous, dans un temps ou tout manque.
C’est, pour une part, leur faute si tout rencherit. Et puis, ils sont trop bruyants. Ils tiennent trop de
place, et ils rient dans une langue que Ton ne comprend pas.513
Once again, we see the recurrence o f pre-war antipathy, in this case to the brashness
of Americans, in the immediate aftermath of the war.
White Europeans
The white workers from elsewhere in Europe who appeared in much greater numbers
during the war were rarely welcomed. The Bulletin Confidentiel of November 1917
noted that the arrival in Rennes o f a thousand Italian soldiers to be employed in the
arsenal provoked “grande surprise et vive emotion”.514 There was little integration
between French and non-French workers, and the suspicion that foreign workers were
being used to bring wages down or as potential strike breakers remained strong.
Russian workers became much less welcome after 1917 when Russia agreed a
separate peace with Germany. At a meeting of the Syndicat de TArsenal et de la
Cartoucherie in Toulouse, a worker complained that nothing had been done to remove
foreign workers, he was particularly upset by the presence of Russian workers.
Froment, the secretary o f the union, responded that the Russians had been in France
511 Giraud, Histoire de la grande guerre, p. 742.
512 Englander, “The French Soldier. 1914-18” p. 58.
513 Le Petit Marseillais, 16 March, 1919.
514 Patrick Mougenet, “14-18, Quelles traces de pacifisme dans ITlle-et-Vilaine en guerre.” Annales
de Bretagne et des Pays de I ’Quest 99:2 (1992) p. 182.
129
before the war, and had at that time been part of the allied nations. They were not
responsible for what had happened in Russia, and it was unfair to repatriate them
now.515 Likewise, when Greece seemed to be taking a less favourable stance towards
France under the influence o f the King, Greek support for their monarch was instantly
dismissed by L ’Ouest-Eclair as the product o f a superstitious nature.
In other cases, the reception o f European workers depended on whether they fitted in
with the dominant discourse o f the war in France, which glorified those who suffered
hardship or loss in the struggle for victory, and condemned those who were seen to be
profiteering or shirking from the war. Thus, a report on Greek workers in Nantes
claimed “The inhabitants of Nantes get on well with the Greeks, provided that they
c 17
know that they are not Turks, but Christian Greeks persecuted by the Turks.”
A
poster raising money for La Journee Serbe in 1916 depicted a mass of humanity in
retreat, homeless families alongside wounded soldiers. This got across a twin
message; that the Serb population deserved help for the suffering they had endured as
a result o f the war, but also the presence of the wounded soldiers indicated the
CIO
contribution they had made.
In 1917, soldiers staying in barracks in Marseilles
attacked the Spanish population, which was resented for its neutrality in the war.519
The magnitude o f the French effort could not be disparaged, so some Belgians
aroused hostility because they “pretendent que la resistance de leur pays a sauve la
France”
In 1917 a speaker to the Lyon Chamber of Commerce, proposing a post­
war boycott of German products, declared that customers should also beware German
goods disguised as neutral merchandise. Some genuine neutral producers might suffer
from this, but the actions o f most neutral countries during the war deserved
ostracism.
C7i
#
According to the soldiers from the Languedoc who Jules Maurin
interviewed, the Spanish were seen as exploiting the situation and one soldier
515 AN F/7/12986/1, 27 April, 1918.
516 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 10 January, 1916.
517 Home, “Immigrant Workers in France” p.74. The same applied to colonial soldiers too. Postal
censors for the Madagascan contingent noted approvingly that “L’admiration est grande pour la France,
et contrairement aux Indochinois, ils reconnaissent la valeur du peuple et de l’armee fran9aise.”
Valensky, Le Soldat Occulte, p. 336.
518 [WWW] <http://www.firstworldwar.com/posters/images/pp_ffa_12.jpg.> [Accessed 31 October
2004]
519 Pourcher, La Vie des Frangais, p. 180.
520 Pourcher, La Vie des Frangais, p. 169.
521 AN F/12/8009/B, 24 October, 1917.
130
believed they were taking the opportunity “pour prendre des exploitations agricoles et
des commerces et s’enrichir.” By contrast refugees from northern France and Belgium
522
were well received “puisque la guerre les avait chasses de chez eux.”
How much of the reaction to the new arrivals on French soil was due simply to antiforeign prejudice, and how much was due to more subtle reasons, can be clarified by
an examination o f the attitudes to refugees, who were often French. In Brittany,
Mougenet argues that refugees, whether French or Belgian, were immediately
welcomed, seen as victims of the war, while foreign workers were seen as profiting
from it. However, as the numbers o f refugees rose, from 2,500 in August 1914
towards 22,000 in September 1918, there are signs o f changes in attitude.
There
were complaints about the fishing practices o f the evacuated Belgians’ boats. In the
consideration o f an application for the allocation by Belgian refugee Georges
Rombaux, it was noted that “II dit qu’il n’acceptera qu’une situation en rapport avec
ses capacites intellectuelles et ses titres ... Et l’on n’est pas bien sur qu’il n’ait pas
quelques moyens”. With other potentially deserving families having been rejected,
“1’acceptance de la demande de M. Rombaux pourrait etre consideree comme une
prime au chomage volontaire et ferait surement des mecontents.”524
In Anjou, Jacobzone notes that the relationship between the populace and the refugees
was strained, particularly in areas where large numbers were concentrated, and
Germain Pouget has described the difficulties between refugees and their hosts in the
Cantal.
The Prefect o f the Saone-et-Loire blamed refugees for disturbing the peace,
reporting that “a la suite de l’introduction d’elements etrangers a la region, de
nouvelles tendances se sont manifestoes.”
The sympathy that refugees gained from
having the ill fortune o f being driven from their homes soon dissipated if they were
felt to be taking advantage o f others in their new location. The Committee of
Economic Action for the Nantes region argued that residents from the invaded lands
522 Jules Maurin, Armee - Guerre - Societe: Soldats Languedociens (1889-1919). Paris: Publications
de la Sorbonne (1982), pp. 593-594.
523 Mougenet, “ 14-18, Quelles traces de pacifisme dans l’llle-et-Vilaine en guerre.” p. 183.
524 AN F/7/12936, May, 1916.
525 Jacobzone, En Anjou, p. 260, pp. 270-273, Germain Pouget, Le Cantal dans la Grande Guerre
(1914-1919): La vie quotidienne. Aurillac: Societe des lettres, sciences et arts ‘La Haute-Auvergne’
(1998) pp. 197-244, esp. pp. 199-204.
131
“qui ne seront plus sur leur sol, ne se sentiront nullement attires vers le travail” while
in Toulouse, a the committee suggested that refugees in the region whether French,
Belgian or other, should be put under an obligation to work.527 Margueritte Yerta’s
novel Les six femmes et I ’invasion criticised those who profiteered from the refugees
and those who treated them harshly, only to see these criticisms removed by the
French censor.
Miners who had been exiled from the north and relocated to work in the Midi
integrated badly with the local workers, missed their homes and worried about their
families. It was also claimed that they enjoyed the local wine too much, to such an
extent that in June 1915, a report on the employment of refugees in mines claimed
that: “Les scenes scandaleuses qui resultent de ces habitudes d’intemperance
constituent un exemple deplorable pour la population ouvriere locale”
This division
is highlighted in a report by the Commissaire Special in Chalon-sur-Saone 15 August
1917. There had been disturbances in Montceau-les-Mines that had resulted in one
death and several injuries. It had begun when a mining company had given its
employees a bonus and there had been some celebrations.
La haine sourde entre mineurs montcelliens et mineurs de Nord n’attendait qu’une occasion pour se
manifester ouvertement. [...] La conduite tapageuse et l’attitude defiant des ouvriers du Nord provoqua
des incidents de cabarets qui degenerent en bagarres sur la voie publique dans plusieurs quartiers de la
ville.
Vous ne vous imaginez pas a quel point les gens du Nord se sont rendus odieux aux yeux de leurs
camarades du bassin de Montceau et de la population montcellienne. Que ce soit au point de vue
individuel, ou sur le terrain syndical ou professionnel, l’element du Nord traite le notre par le dedain,
par le mepris. II entend ne pas se plier aux coutumes du pays at imposer les siennes. Le tapage nocturne
est de regie en rentrant chez soi. Enfm 1’intemperance est a la base de tout.530
526 AN F/7/13365, 19 April, 1918.
527 AN F/12/8008, Minutes of meeting of the Committee of Economic Action for the 11th Region, 11
January, 1918, AN F/12/8004, Minutes of meeting of the Committee of Economic Action for the 17th
Region, 25 February, 1916.
528 The offending passages remained in the English edition. Grayzel, Woman’s Identities at War, p
40.
529 Raymond Huard, “Les Mineurs du Gard pendant la Guerre de 1914-1918; Guerre, Syndicalisme,
Mentalites.” in Economie et Societe en Languedoc-Roussillon de 1789 a nos jours. Montpellier:
Universite Paul Valery (1978) p. 279.
530 Marguin, La Saone-et-Loirependant la guerre de 14-18.
132
The tone of the report indicates that the antipathy towards the miners from the north
from the local community was shared by the authorities in the region.
Further evidence of the mistrust between the refugees and those responsible for taking
them in is highlighted by a cartoon which appeared in the “Journal des refugies du
Nord’ which depicted a southerner saying to a displaced northerner “Maintenant que
vous etes mines, nous allons prendre vos industries.” This brought about an injured
response by L ’Eclair du Midi, which was always quick to respond to perceived slurs
C 'l 1
from the North.
A small advert in the Depeche sought employment in the same
place for a female chef and chambermaid, both refugees. They declared “Preference
personnes du Nord”.
If French refugees created tension as strangers to the area, and as a potential drain on
resources, those from outside France’s borders were still more suspect. There was also
a consistent tendency for the French to blame foreigners for any problems that arose.
Strikes in Paris, 31 May 1917, were ascribed to foreign influence by L ’Eclair du Midi,
claiming the presence of a large number of Swiss, Greeks, and especially Turks.533
The paper also applauded Clemenceau for declaring his lack of astonishment at the
number of foreigners involved in the strikes. “Nous n’avons pas besoin d’etrangers
dans nos murs, a moins que leur presence, dans Tinteret de la defense nationale, ne
soit scrupuleusement justifiee.”534 According to the under-secretary of state for
artillery and munitions, foreigners should be considered to be under suspicion of
being German agents, bent on attacking munitions factories.535 Meanwhile, “louche
Espagnols” were suspected of being agents of the enemy.536 In the Lozere, many
mayors refused to try to lodge those who the departmental administration had decided
were “les refugies non suspects” because their population saw a spy in every
531 L ’Eclair du Midi, 9 September, 1916.
532 La Depeche, 10 July, 1918.
533 L Eclair du Midi, 1 June, 1917.
534 L Eclair du Midi, 6 June, 1917.
535 Le Petit Marseillais, 14 August, 1916.
536 Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, p. 305.
133
foreigner.537 A report by the Prefect of the Savoie argued that a range of nationalities
led to greater disturbances in factories.
La main d’oeuvre de ces usines est composee en majeure partie d’ouvriers du pays et de travailleurs
italiens qui ne sont affilies a aucune organisation, et qui obeiraient difficilement a un mot d’ordre
donne.”
But in the metal factories of Ugine “Le personnel est beaucoup plus melange et
heteroclite; de temps a autre, de petites manifestations se produisent.
coo
Most common
was the accusation that foreigners were gaining financial benefit by exploiting the
French. At a meeting of mutiles and veterans in Marseille, M. Marchetti argued that:
“Pendant que nous, combattants fran9ais, sous les balles, contenions et finissions par
repousser Penvahisseur, d’autres a l’arriere, parmi lesquels beaucoup d’etrangers
COQ
s’enrichissaient scandaleusement a nos depens.”
When the third arrondissement of
Paris saw protests against Russians and Poles it was because of “jeunes Russes et
Polonais qui continuent leur commerce realisant, pretendent leurs concurrents, des
benefices beaucoup plus eleves qu’avant la guerre”.540 In L ’Eclair du Midi, Jean
Legrave commented on the high proportion of nouveaux-riches who were of foreign
origin, and who appeared to have profited from the war. That the “race d’origine” of
these men was sometimes difficult to ascertain, only seemed to increase his
indignation, and he condemned the French reluctance to repatriate foreigners.541
Jews and anti-Semitism
The Jewish population in France offers a slightly different situation as they were
officially French, but often seen as outside or against the national community. For the
Jews, the Union Sacree offered the chance to prove themselves totally committed to
their nation. To some extent they succeeded, Maurice Barres claimed to be convinced
to the loyalty of France’s Jews, and many others must have felt similarly. The post­
war growth in Jewish population, from 150,000 in 1919 to 200,000 in 1930, did not
537 Maurin, Armee - Guerre - Societe, p. 586.
538 AN F/7/13365, 22 July, 1917.
539 AN F/7/13243, 16 March, 1919.
540 Pourcher, La Vie des Frangais, p. 168.
541 L ’Eclair du Midi, 17 October, 1917.
134
result in any visible increase in anti-Semitism. The right-wing leagues tried to attract
Jewish support and especially Jewish war veterans. Only Action Fran9aise held aloof.
By 1931 Gringoire argued “There are no more anti-Dreyfusards ... They’re either
dead or they’re converted.”542 During the war, La Petite Gironde made a similar
point in an article discussing Drumont and the popularity of his ideas which “apparut
excessive dans la principe, sinon dans quelque details.” The war had changed that
though, “Juifs, catholiques et libres penseurs versent leur sang pour une seule et
meme cause avec la meme noblesse. Edouard Drumont meurt oublie.”543
One of the reasons that anti-Semitic attitudes may have been altered more favourably,
is that Jews had traditionally faced a hostile portrait that stressed that their true
loyalties were not to France and their patriotism could not be relied upon. Jews
fighting and dying in the trenches offered a direct contradiction to this. By contrast,
while the willingness of other races to fight on the French side was well regarded, it
did not invalidate the negative views that many French had of their essential
characteristics. Nevertheless, again we should be wary of assigning too much
importance to the effects o f the war. As Vicki Caron notes, anti-Semitism had been in
decline since 1899 while the anti-Semitic group in parliament was wound up in
1906.544 Equally, as soon as the political landscape became more troubled, the Jews
became a target again. In the 1920s, nationalists sought to blame the “Dreyfusard
party,” for being responsible for the carnage of 1914-1918 by weakening the army
and thus national defence.545 The 1930s saw even more hostility, the depression
reawakening all the old complaints against Jewish “profiteers”, then the Jews
escaping from Nazi Germany were portrayed as trying to provoke a war. Leon Blum’s
accession to power did not help.546 Indeed if Paula Hyman’s assertion that “The years
1906-1918 can [...] be seen as a golden age for French Jewry” is accepted, then the
conclusion of the war marked the end o f an age of increased acceptance for French
542 Vicki Caron, “The Jewish question from Dreyfus to Vichy.” in Martin S. Alexander (ed.) French
History since Napoleon. London: Arnold (1999) p. 180.
543 La Petite Gironde, 20 February, 1917.
544 Caron, “The Jewish question from Dreyfus to Vichy.” p. 179, Stephen Wilson, Ideology and
Experience: Antisemitism in France at the time o f the Dreyfus Affair, Rutherford [N.J.]: Fairleigh
Dickinson University Press (1982) p. 216.
545 Michel Winock, Nationalism, Anti-Semitism and Fascism in France. Stanford: Stanford
University Press (1998), p. 119.
546 Caron, “The Jewish question from Dreyfus to Vichy.” pp. 180-182.
135
Jews.547 Thus, the war may have hastened the decline of anti-Semitism, and
temporarily rendered it dormant as a political issue. But anti-Semitic ideology was too
deeply entrenched to be significantly attenuated by the war. Even during the conflict,
committed anti-Semites did not see Jews as part of the Union Sacree, Franconi
associated them with shirkers, while another soldier associated Jews with the traitors
in the government, claiming that “en realite nous sommes toujours gouvernes par les
Caillaux, Malvy, les Juifs tels que Bolo et une Chambre de vendus comme Turmel,
Humbert et bien d’autres.”548 Tony Tollett wrote a book about the French art market
alleging collaboration between Jews and Germans to undermine French culture,
drawing on traditional stereotypes o f shady Jewish business practises combining with
methodical German planning.549 In 1919, Urbain Gohier’s book la Vielle France
denounced Jews as “peuplade de negres mal blanchis” and argued that anti-Semitism
was a reaction of “legitime defense” for the French.550 Even Barres praise for Jewish
patriotism was conditioned by his assertion that it was intellectual not instinctual, and
thus presumably could not always be relied upon. The Univers israelite called for the
realization that “the enemies o f Judaism are still with us” despite the lessening
popularity of Drumont style anti-Semitism.551
Equally, the good conduct of French Jews did not improve attitudes towards those
from other nations. The conservative L ’Eclair du Midi, while generally not prone to
anti-Semitism towards French Jews during the war, nonetheless displayed traces of it
when dealing with foreign Jews, in particular in Russia. J de Morgan offered a timehonoured view o f malign Jewish influence in the corridors of power when he wrote
about “tout un peuple, celui des Grands Russiens, qui, obeissant aux suggestions
d’une poignee de meteques ...” while the newspaper happily latched on to reports in
Russian newspapers that Lenin was not a Russian, but a German spy, whose real
name was Goldberg.552 This pattern was mirrored in its more left wing counterpart, La
547 Paula Hyman, From Dreyfus to Vichy; The Remaking o f French Jewry, 1906-1939. New York:
Columbia University Press (1979) p. 34.
548 quoted in John Cruickshank, Variations on a Catastrophe: Some French Responses to the Great
War. New York: Oxford University Press (1982) p. 71 Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, p. 100.
549 Tony Toilet, De I ’influence de la corporation judeo-allemande des marchands de tableaux de
Paris sur Tart frangais, Lyon: Rey (1915) p. 20
550 quoted in: Schor, L ’Opinion Frangaise et les Etrangers, p. 189, p. 183.
551 Hyman, From Dreyfus to Vichy, p. 50, p. 55.
552 L ’Eclair du Midi, 18 January, 1918, 10 May, 1917.
136
Depeche, which said of Jews in the Ottoman Empire: “II y a des belles femmes en
Orient mais ce n’est pas chez les juifs quelle sont. A part de rares exceptions elles
sont chetives, seches, petites avec des profils de chevre.”553 Sophie Cceure notes in her
study of Franco-Russian relations that police dossiers associated ideas of German
influence in France with that o f “Felement russo-juif’. This echoes Lyautey’s
aforementioned wish to combat the “infiltrations judeo-bolcheviques”.554
La Depeche also provided a clear example of how anti-Semitic prejudice could be
maintained against Jews in France, while apparently excluding French Jews, an
exclusion that could always be reversed. The writer, Frelon, discussed the casualties
from shells launched at Paris, where apparently the casualties had a disproportionate
number of German names. He argued this was because the quarter where the bombs
had fallen was home to an exotic population of “israelites d’origine russe, roumaine,
galicienne, lesquels, par un phenomene singulier, portent presque tous de noms
allemands.” This population had displayed a tendency to shirk military service and
was not “en general naturalisee”. Furthermore “[e]lle compte dans son sein des
refugies de tous genres venus en France pour fuir des persecutions toujours
pretendues religieuses bien qu’elles soient souvent simplement judiciaires.” Within
this population could be found “la soup9onne de pacifisme, de defaitisme et de pire
encore.” He found it amusingly ironic that the Germans had struck amongst these
“indesirables”.555 In this one passage Frelon conflates a variety of negative
perceptions of foreigners; that they were bogus refugees, that they had not adopted
French customs and that they undermined the war effort; as characteristic behaviour
of foreign Jews. In the same newspaper, Emile Bergerat showed that the war had not
changed his belief that Jewishness transcended national boundaries. “Citoyens
factices ou naturels de la nation ou ils vivent, ils doivent s’entre-tuer sous tous les
drapeaux. Le pauvre Ashverus est en outre condamne au fratricide.”556
553 La Depeche, 7 November, 1915.
554 Sophie Cceure, La grande lueur a I ’est; les Frangais et I’Union sovietique, 1917-1939. Paris: Seuil
(1999) p. 25. Gautier, La germanophobie, p. 46.
555 La Depeche, 16 April, 1918.
556 La Depeche, 14 July, 1917.
137
As with other groups then, traditional ideas about Jews were maintained. Their lack of
rootedness in one nation and their propensity for underhand dealings in particular
received regular public outings, albeit usually in criticism of foreign Jews. This
flexibility of discourse allowed anti-Semitic ideas to be maintained even by those who
praised the patriotic actions o f French Jews, before appearing again, reinvigorated, in
the 1930s.
Conclusion
The role of each nation in the war clearly had a vital impact on how the French
viewed and portrayed the inhabitants o f those nations. Citizens from allied countries
were usually praised, those from neutral countries were regarded with suspicion while
the populations o f France’s enemies were harshly criticised. While the Germans may
have been distrusted before the conflict, the vituperation they received during it was
clearly qualitatively different. What is crucial, however, is that the judgements made
of all the foreigners encountered by the French during the war drew heavily on
existing stereotypes. Whether a nation was allied to the French or ranged against
them, their populations’ actions were understood within a framework of ideas that had
existed for years. Americans were considered idealistic, energetic, friendly, moneyoriented and unsophisticated. Russians were backward and credulous peasants. The
English were principled, conscientious, fastidious, and aloof. The actions of the
inhabitants of these countries were considered to be rooted in these characteristics;
praiseworthy actions were explained as a triumph of their positive traits over the
negative ones and vice versa.
An example of this is in how the French reacted to military setbacks amongst their
allies. When the Italians were forced to retreat, it was usually ascribed to military
incompetence or to the suspect temperament of their soldiers. When it was the British
who did so, it was more likely to be attributed to a lack of resolve by the British
authorities, an unwillingness to fully commit themselves to the war. So for example in
the comments quoted earlier from the inauguration of the monument at Artaix, M.
Damiron describing Italian setbacks refers to their soldiers panicking, while M. Pegon
138
spoke of the need for the French to bolster the English to prevent them retreating too
easily.
When the performance of the British troops on the Western Front was seen
as being inferior to that of the Russian troops in the east during th Brusilov offensive,
one French correspondent commented that it seemed the British wanted to preserve
their beautiful army for after the war. By contrast, in late 1917 with the Russians
engulfed in revolution and the Italians in disarray after their rout at Caporetto, the
British troops were praised for their steadfastness.558
The Germans received the most attention in French discourse and a consistent stream
of vitriol was levelled at them. Once again though, this criticism followed traditional
themes and indeed Germany’s actions were often explicitly described as being in a
historical tradition. The French definition of the Germans as inherently militaristic
and barbarous also informed their post war actions. A Rhenish police commissioner
claimed that (unlike colonial troops) French troops occupying the Rhineland
considered the Germans “an inferior people”.559 Laird Boswell has argued that
following the French liberation o f Alsace and Lorraine they sought to create not
simply a loyal population in the lost provinces, but also one as free from German
blood as was possible. Alsatians were classified as being French or not based on their
descent rather than simply on residence and ID cards were issued based upon whether
an individual had Alsatian parents, German parents, mixed parentage or was of
another nationality entirely. Sometimes people appealed against their classification,
and race was not the only consideration used in hearing their appeals. Indeed the most
common reason for success was if they could prove that they or a close relative had
served in the French army or the Foreign Legion, demonstrating again that military
service on the French side could compensate for racial inferiority.560
The other most noticeable phenomenon about French attitudes towards the German
nation is that despite all the abuse heaped on the German “barbarians”, they were still
557 See p. 111.
558 Gibson, “Through French Eyes” p. 181, p. 186.
559 quoted in Sally Marks, “Black Watch on the Rhine: A Study in Propaganda, Prejudice and
Prurience” in European Studies Review 13 (1983) p. 300.
560 Boswell, “From Liberation to Purge Trials”, pp. 138-143. David Allen Harvey, “Lost Children or
Enemy Aliens? Classifying the Population o f Alsace after the First World War” in Journal of
Contemporary History 34-4 (1999) p. 541, pp. 548-549
139
regarded as more advanced and more civilised than non-white “savages”. While the
animosity and contempt towards the Germans was real and intense, it was not
sufficient to overcome the greater conviction of white men’s superiority over non­
whites.
140
CHAPTER 3 - World War One and Gender Relations
Both at the time of the Great War and in its immediate aftermath it was generally
considered that the war had brought about a massive change in gender relations. By
showing that women could take over male roles it was thought to have done more to
emancipate women than years of feminist campaigning had been able to achieve.561
However, recent historiography now offers a different orthodoxy, summed up by
Christine Bard and Fran9oise Thebaud:
La guerre n’a pas emancipe les femmes. Dans les faits, elle a renforce la hierarchie entre les sexes,
bouleverse les relations entre les hommes et femmes, brouille les identites sexuelles, et ces d’autant
plus que les uns et les autres ont vecu une chronologie differente du conflit.562
These arguments depend on several grounds, such as that the increase in female
participation in the workforce has been exaggerated, that the war made men more
hostile to feminism and women’s rights, that the issue of depopulation hampered
feminism, and that the war halted the momentum that women and the feminist
movement had achieved.
It will be argued that in much of France concern over gender relations was peripheral
during the war. While people commented on the various new roles taken on by
women, they understood these modifications in traditional terms. Some new
developments were believed to be temporary adjustments that would not continue
long past the ceasefire; while others were downplayed as applying only to a small
minority of women or just to Paris. In most cases, pre-war ideas of gender relations
maintained their importance throughout the war, offering a framework within which
the changes wrought by the war were understood.
561 Thebaud, “The Great War and the Triumph of Sexual Division” p. 21.
562 Christine Bard, Fran9oise Thebaud, “Les effets antifeministe de la Grande Guerre” in Christine
Bard (ed.) Un siecle d ’antifeminisme. Paris: Fayard (1999) p. 149.
141
Division Between Front and Rear
The division between the home front and the front line has often been posited as a
source of hostility between men and women. The men risking their lives could only
compare the experiences of the home front unfavourably. As Mary Louise Roberts
writes “When soldiers returned from the front they saw their female kin, friends, and
lovers assuming traditionally male jobs and family responsibilities ... The war
generation of men found themselves buried alive in the trenches of death, at the same
time that they witnessed the women in their lives enjoying unprecedented economic
opportunities.563 One infantryman wrote that “Temancipation de la femme et la
dislocation des families font des etapes aussi rapides que Tavancee des Boches en
territoire italien.”564 Soldiers were also upset at civilians’ lack of awareness of their
suffering, and the perceived gaiety and luxury of the home front. Roberts and
Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau both produce ample examples of this.565 In the immensely
popular novel Le Feu, which was lauded for its authenticity, Henri Barbusse famously
wrote that the distinction between the front and the rear was “a difference far deeper
than that of nations and with deeper trenches.”566 Not only was the rest of the
population utterly incapable o f comprehending the horror of trench warfare, which
only those who had experienced it could truly understand, but also the propaganda
and censorship that was considered necessary to maintain morale threw up another
barrier. There are many examples o f this divide, such as in this article that appeared
in the trench newspaper, Le Crapouillot:
There was an announcement: “Views o f the War”. Most of the civilians got up and left, grumbling,
“The war again, what a bore”. While (on the screen) the soldiers mastered the dreadful “pig’s snout”,
the audience doubled up with laughter. Perhaps they would not have found the exercise so funny if
they had but once had to do it in feverish haste with bells ringing in the trenches to announce the
arrival of the dreadful clouds of death ... The final film unrolled before us: “The battle-fields of the
Marne”. The public seemed disappointed that such a terrible battle had left so little trace, and beside
563 Roberts, Civilization Without Sexes, p. 8.
564 Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, p. 98. In passing, it is also notable that Italian military weakness
has become proverbial.
565 Roberts, Civilization Without Sexes, Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau, Men at War 1914-1918: National
Sentiment and Trench Journalism in France during the First World War (Oxford: Berg, 1992)
566 Roberts, Civilization Without Sexes, pp. 27-28.
142
me a little old lady, bored with such tranquil scenery, declared with a gentle little pout: “That’s boring:
there aren’t even any bodies.567
The question is whether the resentment and discontent felt by the soldiers led to any
uncertainty in gender relations. Often the tirades launched against the home front
were aimed more at the men perceived to be shirking, rather than women. In Un Tel
de Varmee frangaise, written in 1918, the soldier Franconi lambasted
Strateges incoherents penches sur des cartes derisoires, generaux de plume et combien peu d’epee,
maniant a la fois les sophismes les plus contradictoires et les armees, ancien insurge deguise en bon
berger, tels furent nos amateurs de la guerre. Ils la firent dans les salles de redaction, les salons
academiques et les brasseries litteraires, alors que toute la jeunesse de France agonisait sur les
nouveaux champs catalaniques.568
The perceived luxury of the conditions in the rear, whether enjoyed by women or men
was a recurring theme in the complaints made by frontline soldiers, and particularly
when exploitation of the troops was involved. This song from the front attacks rich
shirkers, emphasising the contrast with life in the trenches.
Pendant que les heureux, les riches et les grands
reposent dans la soie et dans les fines toiles,
nous autres les parias, nous autres les errants,
ici dans les tranchees l’on se bat et l’on creve.569
In a letter Barbusse sent to La Depeche he highlighted the worst abuses that his book
had attacked: “la guerre suscite bien des egoi'smes et des cupidites. J’ai marque
quelques-uns de ces vices; j ’ai parle des embusques, des profiteurs et des mercantis
sans pitie.”570 The absence of any explicitly female role amongst the groups of
abusers is striking. In his account of the Third Colonial Division during the war,
General Puyperoux made little mention of women, when his troops rest behind the
lines he mentioned only their costly living conditions, criticising those who sought to
exploit the troops for material benefit. “[N]os braves troupiers s’extasient sur le bon
567 Le Crapouillot, August, 1917. Quoted in Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau, Men at War, p. 112.
568 quoted in Cruickshank, Variations on a Catastrophe, p. 70.
569 Cazals et al, Annees Cruelles: 1914-1918, p. 58.
570 La Depeche, 17 July, 1918.
143
marche de certains denrees, eux qui sont si exploites par les mercantis du front. Le
resultat de cet etonnement ne se fait pas attendre longtemps... les prix augmentent de
suite.”571 Cazals and Rousseau argue that the trench journals directed their vitriol
c n 'y
primarily at “des embusques, des profiteurs, des joumalistes bourreurs de cranes,”
In the songs of the trench journals the actions of the poilus were contrasted with the
bourgeoisie rather than with women.
573
It was also difficult to draw a simple line between front and rear that placed all
shirkers in the rear. There were significant gradations o f risk amongst combattants as
the soldiers were well aware. The infantry were at far higher risk than cavalry and
artillery. As one of the heroes of Le Feu commented, “Meme au front on est toujours
l’embusque de quelqu’un.”574 In his memories of the war Jean Esteve wrote about
morale in 1917:
Note en passant ce deplorable etat d’esprit de l’artillerie, le plus mauvais sans doute de toutes les
armees fran?aises, et d’autant plus extraordinaires que ces gens-la, surtout dans l’artillerie lourde, ont
plutot ete des favorises dans cette longue guerre.575
Other differences also existed amongst those at the front, based upon class and status.
In Nancy in 1919 there was a meeting of working-class mutiles who had left the
Association des Mutiles et Anciens Combattants. Marchand, the secretary of the new
group, declared “En revenant des tranchees ou quoiqu’on ait dit, il n’existait aucune
fratemite entre combattants bourgeois et ouvriers, les patrons ont repris leur mentalite
d’avant-guerre et traitent les ouvriers en consequence.”576 Indeed, several veterans’
organisations, including the Union de Poilus did not admit officers into their
membership.
cnn
571 Puyperoux, La 3me Division Coloniale, p. 79
572 Cazals and Rousseau, 14-18, le cri d ’un generation, p. 17.
573 e.g. Lacombe and Lacombe, Les Chants de Bataille, pp. 251-252, 254.
574 Fran?oise Thebaud, La femme au temps de la guerre de 14, Paris: Stock (1986), p. 201.
575 Cazals et al, Annees Cruelles, pp. 117-118.
576 AN F/7/13243, 31 August, 1919. The groups full name was La Federation Ouvriere des Mutiles et
Reformes de Guerre, Veuves et Orphelins. Once again, the distinction is made on the dividing line of
those who were victims of the war.
577 AN F/7/13243, 19 July, 1919.
144
Some critiques of the home front did attack women, but rarely as a primary target.
This article by Captain Leon Hudelle, entitled Le Poilu, was published in several
trench newspapers, as well as some left wing civilian papers.
Le poilu, ce n’est pas un secretaire d’Etat-Major et d’Intendance, ni un automobiliste, mais c’est celui
que tous les automobilistes et les secretaires d’Etat-Major et d’Intendance regardent avec dedain, avec
morgue, avec insolence, presque avec mepris.
Le Poilu, c’est celui que tout le monde admire, mais dont on s’ecarte lorsqu’on le voit monter dans un
train, rentrer dans un cafe, un restaurant, dans un magasin, de peur que ses brodequins machent les
bottines, que ses effets maculent les vestons a la demiere mode, que ses gestes effleurent les robes
cloches, que ses paroles sentent trop era ...578
The first part is aimed at male shirkers, the second part more at women, but it is
significant that the criticism is hardly accusing them of losing femininity; in fact the
reverse is implied. Louis Barthas made a similar argument in his journal
On aurait bien voulu s’arreter cantonner dans ces petites villes si tentantes avec leurs boutiques
flambant neuf, leurs bistrots accueillants, leurs femmes avenantes et rieuses qui nous envoyaient des
signes amicaux au passage mais ces lieux etaient trop beaux pour nous, on les reservait aux embusques
de toute categorie qui pullulaient a l’arriere.579
When women were criticised it was often for the fault, traditionally seen as female, of
living above their station. A song recorded in the journal of Antoine Bose similarly
accuses women of not taking the war seriously. “Elles rigolent des communiques”,
while they live the high life, but once again their role is entirely traditional. The song
is made more powerful by focusing its attack on the wives of the poilus, often
exempted from more general criticism of the rear.
“Les petites femmes des mobilises”
Les poilus s’en vont, le cafard au front,
Trottinant parmi les cervelles.
A l’arriere l’on voit la gaiety, la joie,
578 Cazals et al, Annees Cruelles, p. 59.
579 Frederic Rousseau, La guerre censuree: Une histoire des combattants europeens de 1914-1918.
Paris: Seuil (1999) p. 264.
145
Et la guerre, nul ne s’en aperfoit.
Concerts, cinema, casino,
Tout pleins de badaud
Qui ont la vie belle.
Nos femmes s’offrent du plaisir,
Elies peuvent s’offrir ce qui leur fait plaisir,
Elies rigolent des communiques,
Les petites femmes des mobilises.580
This criticism echoes the criticism earlier in Le Crapouillot by emphasising not just
the easy living standards of those at home compared to the trenches, but the added
indecency of the privileged finding the war a source of amusement. The home front
was expected to be suffering, and those who were not obviously doing so were
harshly criticised.
This theme is also illustrated by the criticism of the population of Chalons sur-Marne
by Barthas.
Grande animation dans la rues, les embusques avaient mis leurs kepis les plus nerfs, leurs galons, leurs
chevrons les plus etincelants. La plupart avaient a leur bras leur femme ou une femme avec des
chapeaux fleuris, des corsages, des robes aux couleurs chatoyantes; tout ce beau monde se promenait,
souriait, jasait, flirtait dans une inconscience, une quietude parfaites.581
The majority of the actions described are not objectionable in themselves, it is only in
the context of the war that fine clothes and shallow pleasures are unacceptable. The
last words are the most significant, what is most damning is the lack of awareness of
the ordeal of the troops. The criticism of women in the trench journal La Mar mite in
1916 followed a similar line, castigating the shallowness of women.
La femme a commis certaines fautes de legerete, d’insouciance, et les jupes de 1916 ont un peu trop
l’air de se ficher de tout. La femme n’a pas toujours eleve son ame jusqu’a la comprehension de
l’heroisme et j ’en ai connu en permission qui, avec un angelique sourire a gifler, me disaient en parlant
des combats de nuit: ‘Comme ce doit etre amusant!’ D’autres ne pouvaient soufffir le mot de ‘poilu’ et
se pamaient devant les mentons imberbes des Anglais. Tout cela deconcerte le soldat et il en con?oit
580 Cazals et al, Annees Cruelles, pp. 59-60.
581 Rousseau, La guerre censuree, p. 264.
146
une certaine pitie meprisante pour la femme. Les exceptions sont nombreuses, je me hate de le dire;
mais elles ne font que confirmer la regie.582
The contemptuous pity the soldiers are claimed to feel for women appears to be based
on women having fallen victim to the traditional vices of their sex rather than any
challenging of gender roles.
This sort of criticisms recur repeatedly. When La Depeche criticised the spring
fashions in 1916 it argued that these fashions were not new and normally would be
cause for amusement. Only because of the terrible circumstances that France found
itself in did they become shocking and unacceptable.
The controleur of the
agricultural workforce in Anjou observed in November 1918, and again in 1919, that
the workers leaving the countryside towards the town, in particular the women were
“attiree par un vie plus facile, la toilette et les plaisirs varies.”
For Margaret
Darrow, the example of feminine fashions is an instance where women’s activities
could be read in differing ways. Was their wearing new and elegant clothing a signal
of indifference to the sufferings of the front, or was it a proud statement that the
natural grace of French women should not be destroyed?585 Certainly Andre Kahn
responded positively at the front to news that Paris was returning to normal in
December 1914. “C’est un honneur pour Poincare et pour ses hommes du
gouvemement que cette resurrection de la France en pleine guerre. Cela doit
bigrement etonner les Boches .. .”586
When the home front was portrayed as wholly feminine, women were often displayed
in a sympathetic, traditional role. An article by Jean Longuet in Le Populaire depicted
“Les couloirs du Palais de Justice retentissent sans cesse des cris dechirants, des
hurlements, des malheureuses femmes dont les maris, les fils, ou les peres viennent
d’etre frappes de condamnations feroces.” It is not just wives, but mothers and
582 quoted in Lacombe and Lacombe, Les Chants de Bataille, p. 236.
583 La Depeche, 18 January, 1916.
584 Jacobzone, En Anjou, p. 303.
585 Margaret H. Darrow, French Women and the First World War: War Stories o f the Home Front.
Oxford, New York: Berg (2000), pp. 69-71.
586 Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote, p. 82.
147
daughters who are crying and wailing, but it appears that there are no fathers or sons
there displaying their anger and grief.587
La Bataille regularly castigated male profiteers in its cartoons but rarely women.
Even in a rare example depicting a woman profiting from the war, a female also
supplies justice; a proletarian woman strangling a bourgeois lady with her own
expensive necklace.
roo
(
Le Populaire followed a similar line to the Bataille with a
cartoon from April 1918 depicting a fat, middle-aged, male employer, criticising a
young female worker for wanting to leave work at six in the evening.
C OQ
Georges
Villard in the trench journal Plus que Toral in 1916 wrote a song that included the
phrase:
“En pensant a la femme, en pensant aux enfants,
Qui vivent angoisses dans la maison muette,”590
Much more gender specific was the issue of sexual infidelity. Mary Roberts argues
convincingly that men at the front lived in fear of being betrayed by their spouses.
Roberts goes further though by arguing that “Sexual infidelity signified the wartime
reversal of gender roles because in this case, women were free and promiscuous,
while men were “confined” to the army and trenches ... female infidelity symbolized
the isolation, alienation, and emasculation of the male combattant.”591 As has already
been noted, there can be no contesting that men fighting in the trenches felt alienated
and isolated from the rest o f society. However the argument that the war and female
infidelity resulted in a feeling o f emasculation among soldiers is more problematic.
War has traditionally been portrayed as embodying the epitome of masculinity, and
hence virility, and at the start o f the Great War, it proved no exception. From August
1914 into 1915 the war was portrayed in Britain as resulting in reinvigorating a
587 AN F/12/8024.
588 La Bataille, 4 August, 1916.
589 Jean-Louis Robert, “The image o f the profiteer” in Jay Winter, Jean-Louis Robert (eds.) Capital
Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin. 1914-1919. New York: Cambridge University Press (1997) p.
119.
590 Lacombe and Lacombe, Les Chants de Bataille, pp.245-246 See also Englander, “The French
Soldier. 1914-18” pp. 61-63.
148
degenerate and effeminate pre-war culture amongst men, with women similarly
refeminized.592 The French reaction was similar. In August 1914, Rene Bazin wrote
in his cahiers intimes,
“J’entends le dialogue des officiers allemands rentrant dans leur positions d’ou on les avait lances en
avant:
Vous n’avez pu tenir?
Non, un elan terrible, des troupes comme celles de Napoleon, des armees mieux maniees que les
notres...
Et le desordre ?
Pas
Et 1’insubordination?
Finie
Et l’affaiblissement de la race?
Mensonge!
La France agonisante?
Allez-y voir!”593
The war had given the lie to the idea o f Vaffaiblissement de la race. The reference to
the Napoleonic army is also significant; these soldiers are just as glorious (and by
implication the war is too).
The argument is that while previous wars had allowed men to display heroism
through acts of personal bravery and virile attacks, the Great War was different, men
were powerless against the shells and machine guns, heroism was achieved purely
through survival. Jean Norton Cru gives a striking account of this.
Entre deux groupements plus petits, comme entre deux individus, il n’y a plus de lutte, sauf dans des
cas tres exceptionnels: presque toujours Fun des deux frappe, Vautre ne peut que courber le dos et
recevoir les coups.
591 Roberts, Civilization Without Sexes pp. 37-38.
592 Susan Kingsley Kent, “Love and Death: War and Gender in Britain, 1914-1918" in F. Coetzee and
M. Shevin-Coetzee (eds.), Authority, Identity and the Social History o f the Great War (Oxford:
Berghahn, 1995) p. 156.
593 Jacobzone, En Anjou, p. 48.
149
The French infantry could only take cover against the German trench artillery, which
was impotent against the French 75s, which were in turn powerless to retaliate against
German heavy artillery.
Les soldiers sont bourreaux ou victimes, chasseurs ou proie, et dans l’infanterie nous avons
l’impression que nous jouames la plupart du temps le role de victime, de proie, de cible. Ce role ne
tend guere a faire gouter la gloire des combats.594
While the scale of this suffering was undoubtedly unprecedented in the First World
War, the experience o f war bringing death without possibility for heroism was not
entirely new. Dr Samuel Johnson had given a significantly similar description to the
experience of soldiers fighting nearly 150 years earlier.
The life of a modem soldier is ill-represented by heroick fiction. War has means of destruction more
formidable than the cannon and the sword. O f the thousands and ten thousands, that perished in our
late contests with France and Spain, a very small part ever felt the stroke of an enemy; the rest
languished in tents and ships, amidst damps and putrefaction; pale, torpid, spiritless, and helpless;
gasping and groaning, unpitied among men, made obdurate by long continuance of hopeless misery,
and whelmed in pits, or heaved into the ocean, without notice and without rememberance. By
incommodious encampments and unwholesome stations, where courage is useless, and enterprise
unpracticable, fleets are silently dispeopled, and armies sluggishly melted away.595
There are certainly plenty o f examples of veterans lambasting the dehumanising
quality of trench warfare. In Le Feu, a soldier, Bertrand: “Honte a la gloire militaire,
honte aux armees, honte au metier de soldat, qui change les hommes tour a tour en
stupides victimes et en ignobles bourreaux.”596 Jacques Riviere writing in 1921 asked
“Je demande a tous les combattants ... s’ils n’ont pas la sensation d’avoir ete amputes
de toute une partie de leur sensibilite. Nous reviens mais nous ne sommes plus les
594 Jean Norton Cm, in Cazals et al, Annees Cruelles, pp.50-51. See also Sherman, “Monuments,
Mourning and Masculinity” and Leonard Smith, “Masculinity, Memory, and the French World War I
Novel: Henri Barbusse and Roland Dorgeles” in F. Coetzee and M. Shevin-Coetzee (eds.), Authority,
Identity and the Social History o f the Great War (Oxford: Berghahn, 1995) pp. 251-273.
595 Samuel Johnson, Thoughts on the Late Transactions Respecting Falkland's Islands (1771)
[WWW] http://www.samueljohnson.com/falklands.html [Acessed31 October 2003]
596 Cruickshank, Variations on a Catastrophe p. 53.
150
memes.”597 According to Antoine Prost: “Le soldat est un homme que la guerre
deshumanise.”598
Yet all these references suggest not a loss of virility, but of basic humanity.
Furthermore, the surviving o f the war seems to have been considered as having
passed a test, of being proven. Antoine Prost’s major study of war veterans suggests
that the men did not come out o f the war feeling emasculated or in need to prove
themselves. On the contrary they felt that, terrible though their experiences had been,
they had at least gained pride in the fact that they had not been found wanting. The
rhetoric of anciens combattants throughout the interwar period is filled with examples
of where they assert that they have proven themselves worthy.599 Writers of such
different persuasions as Montherlant and Drieu la Rochelle both expressed nostalgia
for the “virile fraternity” o f the front.600
The post war activity of veterans also contradicts the idea that they were desperate to
forget the war entirely. The vast majority joined organisations of Anciens
Combattants, for social activities as well as for campaigning. Holt’s study of sporting
activity in France shows that the war resulted in acceleration in numbers participating
in shooting. In 1870 there were 300,000 registered participants, which grew to
600,000 by 1914. In the 1920s there were more than one million participants, and by
1930 there were 1.8 million.601 It is reasonable to assume that a significant proportion
of these newcomers were veterans, who were not put off by any military associations.
The virility of the soldiers was also constantly eulogised by non-combattants.
Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau’s study o f children’s literature featured several “...
histoires developpent le theme du heros qui, par sa modestie et son heroisme,
597 Annette Becker, La Guerre et la Foi: de la mort a la memoire 1914-1930, Paris: Armand Collin
(1994) p. 103.
598 Antoine Prost “Les Representations de la Guerre dans la culture ffan?aise de l’entre-deux-guerres.”
Vingtieme Siecle 41 (Jan-Mar 1994) p. 29.
599 Antoine Prost, Les anciens combattants et la societe frangaise, 1914-1939 (3 vols.) Paris : Presses
de la Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, (1977).
600 Cruickshank, Variations on a Catastrophe, p. 78.
601 Richard Holt, Sport and Society in Modern France, Hamden, CT: Archon Books, (1981) p.22.
After 1930, numbers levelled off.
151
conquiert le coeur d’une femme logiquement inaccessible.”602 There were a series of
postcards during the war entitled “Graine de Poilu”. One depicted an enfant bursting
out of his shell, armed with rifle and bayonet and asking “Y en a-til encore des
Boches?” Not all French children would be heroic, just the sons of the soldiers.
603
Furthermore, as Audoin-Rouzeau notes, the representation of combattants stressed
defence of their soil, defence o f their country, but most strongly of all defence of their
women and children.604
In C. Binet-Sangle’s book Le Haras humain published in 1918, he described his wish
to regenerate the race. His ideal masculine type seemed closely based upon the
popular image o f the soldier: “hommes muscles, poilus, barbus, a gros testicules, a
scrotum ferme, a sperme epais”. Women were expected to have a traditional feminine
form, with broad hips and large breasts.605 Even those non-combatants who witnessed
the suffering first hand were positive about the link between virility and frontline
combat. The influential psychologist Dr Dide, who worked for some time at the front,
wrote in 1916:
L’acte genital tend a assurer la perpetuation de la race et le guerrier, dans sa force abstraite, se
surpasse, anime qu’il est des forces de la destinee: II n’est plus un homme, il symbolise le droit au
soleil d’un peuple, le besoin de vie d’un nation, il devient synthese de la patrie elle-meme qui veut
perseverer dans son etre.606
Helene Dequidt has noted that those men serving in frontline medical services found
their masculinity in question both by the soldiers, and also by themselves, and many
sought to be transferred to frontline combat. Similarly those attending to the wounded
•
•
at the rear wished they were in the frontline of the battle against death.
f\C\1
An
indication of the views of the wounded themselves was given by M.Simon, chairing a
602 Audoin-Rouzeau, La Guerre des Enfants p. 76.
603 Audoin-Rouzeau, La Guerre des Enfants between pp. 128-129. See also Huss, Histoires de la
Famille, pp. 166-183.
604 Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau, Combattre, Amiens: Centre Regional de Documentation Pedagogique
de Picardie (1985) p. 80.
605 Carol, Histoire de VEugenisme en France, p. 151.
606 Francises Jacob, “L’Asile d’alienes de Braqueville (Haute-Garronne) pendant la guerre de 1914:
un exemple des mutations de la psychiatrie frangaise,” in Annales du Midi 103 - 96 (1991) p. 493.
607 Helene Dequidt, “La crise d’identite du monde medical ffangais en 14-18.” in Guerres mondiales
et conflits contemporains 175 - July (1994) pp. 87-101.
152
meeting organised by the Journal des mutiles to form a federation of all associations
of anciens combattants in November 1917. “Je salue ensuite nos chers camarades
restes au front et qui continuent la tache rude et sublime de proteger les foyers que
nous ne pouvons plus defendre.”608 Not only did Simon laud the sublime nature of the
task, it was placed squarely within the traditional setting of the man defending the
home.
If it is difficult to say that the war resulted directly in the symbolic emasculation of
the male combatant, the argument that this was achieved indirectly - through female
sexual infidelity - is stronger. There is no doubt that there was an increase in sex
outside of marriage, illegitimate births rose significantly.609 For those whose wives
and fiancees left them, this would clearly have been distressing, as would be the
situation for those who stayed with their partners, knowing or suspecting that they
had been unfaithful, perhaps unsure about the paternity of a child. In 1918, an article
in Le Courier du Centre began: “Un drame passionnel - ils sont deja nombreux depuis
la guerre...” It described how a soldier, Yves Beauffenie, killed Jean Pestis, who up
until recently had been in the same regiment, because Pestis was having an affair with
his wife.610
One of the letters from the front recorded by Jean Nicot identified three types of
people who aroused resentment at the front.
... des industriels que la guerre enrichit, ensuite ce sont les viellards, anciens combattants de 1870 qui
n’ont personne au front et parlent patriotisme, enfin, en troisieme lieu, ce sont des femmes que je ne
veux pas qualifier et dont les maris sont au front et qui ont pres d’elles des amants recrutes parmi les
embusques ou des jeunes gens imberbes.611
608 AN F/7/13243, 12th November, 1917.
609 It should be noted however that this was not setting a trend that was to follow after the war.
Illegitimate births per 100 between 1866-1875 were 7.4; between 1896-1905, 8.8; and between 19261935, 7.9. Patrick Festy, La fecondite des pays occidentaux de 1870 a 1970. Paris: Presses
Universitaires de France (1979) p. 68.
610 Le Courier du Centre, 10 February, 1918.
611 Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, p. 89.
153
These unfaithful wives were implicitly contrasted with women mentioned earlier in
the letter - “Des femmes en grand deuil qu’on croise dans lame pleurent en regardant
les poilus du front”.612
Female infidelity was not typically portrayed as a sign of assertiveness. In the novel
Daniel Sherman analyses, La joie by Maurice Genevoix, Genevoix describes the
feelings of Pierre, the hero, about the embusque who had an affair with his girlfriend.
“Pendant que je me battais, pendant que je grelottais en Bochie, ce monsieur
s’installait chez vous, n’en bougeait plus”. Here the entire agency in the affair is
assigned to the man, who wouldn’t leave, without any impression of a wartime
reversal of gender roles.613 This is backed up by some of the trench journals studied
by Audoin-Rouzeau. In this extract it is assumed that if women are wearing jewellery
then it must have been men who were responsible for buying it. In addition, the
changes it notes are all o f appearance, not of character:
At last he reaches the village ... He meets some country women. Oh, but how they’ve changed! No
more clogs, no more apron: smart polished boots, jewellery! As the poilu says to himself: “Are there
still men at the rear, to pay for all these fine things”.614
Even more explicit, the following extract seems to absolve women from all
responsibility for initiating infidelity, putting all the blame onthe men at the rear.
How cowardly they seem to me, those men who are comfortably settled at the rear and who try to
profit from the current difficult circumstances by disturbing the noble and dignified solitude of women
deprived of their loved ones and their support. I cannot think o f any more base or vile crime than that!
While others, out there are getting shot or lie bleeding in a hospital bed, those men whose privileged
position should impose on them at least a polite reserve roam like wolves round homes where the head
of the household is absent. Yes there are roaming wolves.615
The difficulties involved in attributing division between the sexes to combat are also
highlighted by a quote made by a railwayman: “women no longer want to obey ... we
612 Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, p. 89.
613 Sherman “Monuments, Mourning and Masculinity” p. 87.
614 Le cri du boyau, September-October, 1916 in Audoin-Rouzeau, MenatWar: 1914-1918 p. 131.
615 La Gazette du crenau. November, 1918, in Audoin-Rouzeau, MenatWar: 1914-1918 p. 132.
154
talk about marriage between men and women as people talk of peace between the
Boches and the French.”616 A man in a reserved occupation made this comment; not
someone who had fought on the front line, his use of “we” suggests he knew others
who shared his thinking.
Civilian testimony was more often inclined to assign blame to women. Emile
Rethault wrote in 1970 on the consequences of the war in the commune where he
would become mayor. He believed that the departure of the vast majority of adult
males meant that “L’autorite interne tomba en quenouille...”617 Similarly, on the
subject of extra-marital affaires, Gilles Deperiere denounced “les mauvais exemples,
/'lO
trop humains, donnes par quelques mauvais esprits, surtout feminins.”
Dr Vemedal
in his doctoral thesis claimed that prostitution has many more adherents: “avides
surtout de plaisir, mais plus souvent de luxe et de gain” in the difficult financial times
during the war.619
One pitfall it is crucial to avoid is conflating the lifestyles of Parisian women and the
responses that these lifestyles prompted with that of French women as a whole.
Maurice Donnay noted this phenomenon during the war, claiming that foreigners
have been prone to judge France by Paris, French women by Parisian women and
Parisian women by “certains Parisiennes agitees”.
Certain criticisms by the French
of the moral conduct of women were Paris specific. Louis Barthas for instance had
direct criticism to make of some women in Paris:
Par exemple, je fus choque de la tenue de certaines Parisiennes. Appartenaient-elles au grande monde?
au monde? au demi-monde? Je l’ignorais. Decolletees, ‘demolletees’, bras nus, epaules nues, elles
semblaient avoir le seul souci de plaire, de se faire remarquer, attirer le regard, aiguiser les desirs des
passants et cela au moment ou l’angoisse etreignait tant de cceurs, ou tant d’yeux pleuraient, tant de
sang coulait, ou se jouait le destin de la France, de l’Europe... et meme du monde!621
616 Theodore Zeldin, France, 1848-1945, Vol.l, Ambition, love and politics. Oxford : Clarendon
Press, (1973) p. 351.
617 Jacobzone, En Anjou, p. 293.
618 Jacobzone, En Anjou, p. 303.
619 Vemedal, L ’Enfant de la Guerre a Toulouse, p. 35
620 Maurice Donnay’s preface to Mme Paul Alexandra Mellor, Pages Inedites sur La Femme et la
Guerre. Paris: Devambez (1916). p. 15.
155
The postcard mentioned earlier of a woman lifting up her skirt to the admiring
glances of foreign soldiers was specifically described as an “Attraction Parisiennes”.
Rosny and Mille were both quoted in the last chapter making a distinction between
the relationships amongst women and Americans in the big cities and those
elsewhere.622 The presumed sexual behaviour of Parisian women also informed
Andre Kahn’s dismissal of the strikes of 1917, as well as ideas of female irrationality.
Quant aux manifestations hysteriques des ouvrieres parisiennes, encore une fois, je les considere sans
le moindre importance. Elies s’agitent parce que les printemps les enerve et qu’elles ne trouvent pas
assez d’hommes pour le satisfaire.623
The extent to which the mores o f the capital, and particularly the Parisian elite, were
seen to differ from that of those who lived in provincial cities, is highlighted by an
article in La Libre Parole in September 1914 on the changes wrought by the
governmental move to Bordeaux.
II parait que Ton ne s’ennuie pas a Bordeaux pendant que nos soldats defendent la France sur les
champs de bataille, a deux pas de nous, au prix de leur sang. Tandis que la population parisienne,
epuree de ses politiciens arrivistes et de ses jouisseurs nevroses, conserve dans sa calme vaillance une
bonne humeur pleine de dignite, tous nos histrions, nos bateleurs, nos amuseurs et amuseuses, tous les
habitues des restaurants de nuit se sont transports a Bordeaux, ou ils ont trouve dans les coulisses
gouvemmentales une clientele toute disposee a se mettre a l’unisson. On y joue la comedie, on y sable
le champagne en aimable compagnie, on cherche a se remonter artificiellement un moral qui avait ete
un peu ebranle lors de l’exode... Souhaitons que les colonisateurs actuel de Bordeaux fassent enfm un
retour sur eux-memes et songent un peu plus aux epreuves que traverse la patrie.624
It wasn’t just the lifestyle o f the Parisians that was distinguished from that of the
Bordelais, it was that they were doing so while the men from the region, “nos
soldats”, were sacrificing their blood for France.
It must also be remembered that the relationship between front and rear was far from
being wholly antagonistic. There were close relationships between soldiers and their
621 Rousseau, La guerre censuree, p. 265.
622 Huss, Histoires de famille pp. 208-209, La Depeche, 30 July, 1918 See pp. 127-128.
623 Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote, p. 275.
156
families and friends that were maintained by letters and postcards.625 Awareness of
the suffering of their loved ones must have reminded soldiers that they were not
unique. Andre Kahn demonstrated this in writing to his wife “Tu n’es pas la seule a
en souffrir. J’imagine que toutes les femmes de France en sont au meme point, ne
revent qu’au meme avenir...”626 When Paris was bombed, soldiers did not celebrate
the jolt to the profiteers o f the home front, but criticised the cruelty of the Germans as
murderers of the innocent. “Que nous nous battions entre hommes, je trouve ce
moyen assez legal. Mais d’aller tuer les vieillards, les femmes et les enfants, c’est
ignoble.”627
There were also the nurses and the marraines. In both these examples soldiers would
have close contact with women in positive, traditional roles. The marraines, or
godmothers, were women who offered both moral support and presents to soldiers at
the front, particularly those without families of their own. The role of marraines
offered women the chance to give support to men at the front in a traditionally
feminine role and newspapers regularly encouraged more women to contribute. La
Bataille urged, “Encore toujours plus de marraines! Les vieilles femmes, les petites
filles! Toutes, pour nous chers camarades solitaires et tristes, a qui nous devons un
peu de joie et d’affection.”628 Nearly 3 million soldiers were hospitalised during the
war, more than half of them at least twice, plus those who were afflicted by illness.
Female nurses would have attended all of these.
(\" )Q
One of the extracts from Gaspard
by Rene Benjamin that was printed in La Petite Gironde painted a glowing picture of
nurses.630 The same newspaper also printed a description by a soldier from the region,
Leo Larguier, describing being hospitalised for his wounds.
Un arret, et des quatre coins de la gare sur le quai desert, s’essaiment les dames et les demoiselles de la
Croix-Rouge. Je ne reve pas. Ce sont bien des anges qui apportent des corbeilles... Des souliers de
624 G. Dupeux, “Bordeaux pendant la Premiere Guerre Mondiale” in Joseph Lajugie ed. Bordeaux au
XXe Siecle. Bordeaux: Federation historique du Sud-Ouest (1972) pp. 10-11.
625 See for example Huss, Histoires de famille pp. 92-113.
626 Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote, p. 263.
627 Nicot, Les Poilus ont la parole, p. 307.
628 La Bataille, 4 January, 1916.
629 Thebaud, La femme au temps de la guerre de 14, p.84. See also Margaret H. Darrow, French
Volunteer Nursing and the Myth o f War Experience in World War I in The American Historical
Review, 101-1. (1996), pp. 80-106.
630 La Petite Gironde, 9 January, 1916.
157
velours sur les marchepieds, des mains fines, des sourires frais et des yeux qui rient, des voix de
miracle et des blancheurs de paradis; tout cela pour de vieux poilus brises qui n’ont fait que leur
devoir. C’est trop, nous sommes confiis, et nul n’aurait ose imaginer cet accueil, et nous nous estimons
payes au centuple [...] Sur le fond sanglant de la guerre, pour les bons poilus meurtris, elles se
detachent en voiles blancs et elles demeurent de petites figures fran?aises, avec leur grace legere et leur
gout charmant.631
Larguier doesn’t just appreciate the care given by the nurses of the Red Cross, it’s
their very femininity that is stressed - their soft hands, their fresh smiles, their grace
and charm - as salving the pain of the bloody war.
Jean Hugo spoke of “une tres jeune infirmiere d’un beaute celeste, accompagnee par
son grand-pere, un vieux gentilhomme a moustache blanche: elle nous servit
gravement du cafe, en silence et sans sourire.”
General Puyperoux paid homage to
a nurse who worked on the front with his division. He claimed she would be
remembered by all the soldiers as “la personnification de la bravoure feminine et du
A'}'}
devouement desinteresse.”
Pierre Mille described how nurses were initially
reluctant to treat German prisoners who had been trying to kill their husbands or
brothers, but when it was pointed out to them what might happen if German nurses
took the same approach they realised what was necessary. “Elles se sont devouees
corps et ame et bientot, d’ailleurs, 1’instinct de matemite et de pitie qui est au cceur de
toutes les femmes a triomphe chez elles de tout autre sentiment.”634 While Mille was
writing to praise the nurses, his description implicitly stresses the dominance of
sentimentality and instinct above reason and rationality in the actions of these
women.
While those who participated in nursing were widely praised, their role was not
considered to warrant parity with the men at front in terms of privileges. A circular
from the war ministry stated “le benefice de la franchise postale militaire s’applique
exclusivement aux militaires et marins mobilises, et qu’en aucun cas, le personnel
feminin employe dans les services et etablissements militaires ne peut beneficier de
631 La Petite Gironde, 1 February, 1916.
632 Rousseau, La guerre censuree, p. 251.
633 Puyperoux, La 3me Division Coloniale p. 167
634 Le Petit Marseillais, 23 October, 1914.
158
cette franchise.635 Furthermore, the worth of the nurses’ service was valued so highly
because of the reflected glory from those they treated. This is illustrated by the
monument to war-time nurses at Berck-Plage, which features not a nurse but a
wounded soldier on a stretcher.
f\Xf\
There was also leave from the front. While some soldiers found civil society
insensitive, others reacted positively. The memoirs of Marius Hourtal contain a long
passage describing a leave, where the entire trip is described positively, except for a
difficult meeting with the mother of a war victim.637 He gave several examples of
consideration being shown towards him and his companions. They were granted free
admission to various Parisian attractions as they were recognised as permissionaires
who had come straight from the front line. On the trip to his village his trai was full
and he began to fall asleep in the corridor until an old lady gently took his arm and
insisted on giving him her seat, despite his attempts to refuse. At the same time his
comrades were lying down all along the corridor, but the conductor didn’t wake them,
understanding they were exhausted. Later another conductor stamped their passes so
as to give them an extra day’s leave. Finally he arrived at his home, where he was
warmly welcomed by his family “Puis ce fuit la tournee des voisins et amis du
village, car tout le monde voulait me voir.”
A soldier told the Petit Parisien that he
didn’t need to read patriotic exhortations from the rear, but that leave was welcome.
“Let them double our wine, brandy, and also leaves and not brainwash us with that
claptrap”.639 For Octave Clauson, his enjoyment was in seeing his family, and the
suspension of leave was a major blow. But there was a downside, with people saying
to him on every leave “Tu es deja la!” and also the sense that life back home was
moving on without him.640
635 ANF/12/7999, 1 November, 1916.
636 Luc Capdevila, Fran?ois Rouquet, Fabrice Virgili, Daniele Voldman, Hommes et femmes dans la
France en guerre 1914-1945. Paris: Payot (2003) p. 72
637 Cazals et al, Annees Cruelles, p. 67.
638 Cazals et al, Annees Cruelles, pp. 64-67.
639 Charles Rearick, The French in Love and War: Popular Culture in the Era of the World Wars.
New Haven: Yale University Press (1997) p. 23.
640 Cazals et al, Annees Cruelles, pp. 118-119.
159
It appears that there was a close correlation between the morale of the troops and their
reaction to civil society. In the winter of 1915-1916, the prefect of Anjou reported to
the Interior Ministry that
Les visites des permissionnaires continuent a produire dans l’ensemble leur action bienfaisante. La tres
grande majorite [...] fait impression par leur bonne sante physique et morale, leur bonne humeur, leur
courage, leur resolution, leur assurance dans le succes final qu’ils annoncent generalement comme
prochain.641
At roughly same time, the sub-prefect o f Cholet believed of soldiers that “leur
confiance dans son issue [the end o f the war] gagnent les plus indecis, les plus enclins
au decouragement.”642
However in 1917 the situation was reversed; the soldiers were depressed and made no
secret of it. According to the prefect “Ceux-ci apportent depuis quelque temps du
front un etat d’esprit extremement facheux et exercent autour d’eux une influence
deletere. Les effets de cette influence se font ressentir partout et ont beaucoup
contribue a la depression qui s’est produite dans toute les milieux...”643 It may be no
coincidence that Hourtal’s account was of a leave taken in 1916, while Clauson only
arrived at the front in 1917.
The post-war rhetoric of the veterans’ organisations testifies to a more subtle
distinction than simply a dichotomy o f frontline service and home front fecklessness.
Instead, distinctions were made in terms of perceived sacrifice. Thus when, in 1919 at
a meeting of the Union des Poilus in Toulon, the order of a cortege was decided, it
was headed by mutiles, then the war widows, and finally the poilus.644 Several
organisations, such as the mutualsociety La Gallieni, had
memberships made up of
war widows and war wounded. Nor werethe interests of widowsconsidered
to be
necessarily less important. At a meeting in Rennes in 1919, made up in equal parts of
war wounded and widowed women, the first two complaints it made were “Contre le
licenciement des veuves de guerre employees dans 1’Administrations publique et les
641 Jacobzone, En Anjou, pp. 64-65.
642 Jacobzone, En Anjou, p. 65.
643 Jacobzone, En Anjou, p. 65.
160
Arsenaux.” and “Contre le non-emploi des veuves de guerre qui devenues chefs de
famille du fait de la mort de leurs maris, ont acquis une priorite sacree dans le droit au
travail”. Only then did it move on to various complaints about the treatment of
mutiles.645 When, in 1924, M. Felix of the Federation ouvriere et paysanne des
Mutiles organised a demonstration for the 16th of November, he disassociated it from
the 11th of November celebrations because he believed that they were being run by
the Bloc National which “n’etaient pas qualifies”. However he did believe that an
association of war widows was sufficiently qualified to organise the demonstration
with.646 When there was a national congress of mutiles in 1919, it attempted to agree
a “programme minimum des combattants”. This mainly consisted of ensuring the
employment of the wounded. It was agreed that “tout ce qui a ete des mutiles
s’appliquera egalement aux veuves [de guerre]”647 Similarly, at a meeting of veterans
in the Hautes-Pyrenees the president, M. Maumus, complained that in certain
industries “dont les meilleures places ont ete pris par ceux qui sont restes a Farriere.”
His next complaint was about the dismissal of war widows from their place of
employment.648 The conference o f the Union nationale des mutiles in April 1919,
called for “le droit de vote et 1’eligibility a tous les degres pour les veuves de
guerre”649
Thus, when these groups campaigned, their opposition was not to women taking the
jobs of men, but more specifically those who had not suffered during the conflict
denying employment to those who had sacrificed a limb or a husband. At a meeting
tfi
of La Gallieni in May 1919, a M. Richard criticised the 15 arrondissement for “a
renvoye tout recemment 4 demobilises qu’elle occupait, et conserve dans ses bureaux
une vingtaine de jeunes filles qui n’ont rien perdu a la guerre, sont dans leur families,
et ne travaillent, selon leurs dires, que pour la voilette et leurs gants”. Richard argued
it was necessary to signal such abuses to the public.650 During a meeting of the
644 AN F/7/13243, 10 July, 1919.
645 AN F/7/13243, 15 June, 1919.
646 AN F/7/13243, 6 December, 1924.
647 AN F/7/13243, 23 April, 1919.
648 AN F/7/13243, 16 June, 1919.
649 La Petite Gironde, 24 April, 1919.
650 AN F/7/13243, 19 May, 1919. Interestingly, this was portrayed not as a sign o f public indifference
to veterans, but administrative indifference. It was believed that if such abuses were indicated to the
public then they would support the veterans.
161
Association amicale des mutiles, reformes et anciens combattants in 1920 a man
called Davillers neatly encapsulated several of the veteran movement’s grievances in
demanding that “... dans les diverses administrations, les emplois sedentaires soient
reserves aux veuves, aux mutiles, et non a femmes paraissent de mceurs legeres,
comme il s’en trouve au Ministere des pensions.”651 Morality and sacrifice were
linked as inextricably as immorality and exploitation of the war.
Indeed the resentment of those who had fought for France may have been more
developed by their treatment after the war. A poster entitled “Ceux qu’on Oublie!”
drew attention to the adulation heaped on the veterans in 1918, and their subsequent
neglect.
1918 “C’est la Gloire! la Victoire! l’Enthousiasme des foules! l’Elan vers les Heros!... Ce sont des
promesses, l’assurance qu’elles seront tenues et que pas un seul de tous nos droits ne sera meconnu...
1922 “Quatre ans d’indifference! les couronnes de lauriers devenues couronnes d’dpines,”652
Further down, the poster asserted that “Malgre la bonne volonte du Ministre des
Pensions, 1’Administration continue sa lutte contre les Mutiles...”653
th
In 1919, the 14 of July celebrations in Bordeaux saw the places reserved for the
victims of the war occupied by a mass o f people, and they were unable to join in the
celebrations.654 The Association des mutiles et anciens combattants de Montpellier
demanded that “les mutiles ne soient pas relegues a la fin du cortege comme les
annees precedentes, car ils estiment que leur place est en tete de cortege” for the 11th
of November procession in 19 19.655 Again though, as Monique Luirard notes, the
anger of the former soldiers in the post war period was largely directed at the male
exploiters of the war, politicians, profiteers and shirkers.656
651 AN F/7/13243, 4 April 1920.
652 AN F/7/13243.
653 AN F/7/13243.
654 AN F/7/13243, 15 July, 1919.
655 AN F/7/13243, 15 October, 1919.
656 Monique Luirard, La France et ses morts; Les monuments commemoratifs dans la Loire. St
Etienne: Centre interdisciplinaire d’etudes et de recherches sur les structures regionales (1977) pp. 7476.
162
The Impact of the War
Christine Bard argues that the war halted the momentum of feminist campaigning,
“Nombre de changements dans la vie des femmes trop hativement attribues a la
guerre se sont en realite produits a la Belle Epoque. Dans la litterature apparait, alors
une “femme nouvelle”, libre, independante, revolt, en un mot, feministe.”657 Bard is
correct to say that the “femme nouvelle” was a popular image in the Belle Epoque, as
indeed it has been in several contemporary epochs. However, as Roberts has shown
with her study of the post war “femme modeme” the existence of liberated,
independent, feminist women was not in itself sufficient to create significant changes
in the position of women as a whole. While there was some pre-war emancipation - in
1907 married women gained the right to their own earnings, and in 1912 the right to
bring paternity suits - this was little more impressive than post-war reforms. For
Michelle Perrot though, it was the campaign for the right to vote that was derailed by
the war.
In 1914 Le Journal ran a referendum on women’s suffrage and reported five hundred thousand votes in
favor. The political Left, which previously held itself aloof, was converted to women’s suffrage: in
1914 Jean Jaures openly favoured giving women the vote. But the war halted this momentum. The
procrastination of the 1920s and 1930s and the Senate’s long resistance to proposals for female
suffrage illustrate how women’s cause regressed during the interwar period.658
This argument is not wholly convincing. Le Journal's poll is hardly conclusive, and it
carried out a similar vote, with similar results, after the war. The political Left often
made statements in favour of female suffrage, without ever considering it an issue
important enough to warrant doing much about.659 It is also difficult to see why the
procrastination and the obstructionism of the Senate would have been any different
prior to the war, those being the primary qualities the Senate brought to the Third
Republic throughout its existence. Furthermore, it doesn’t chime in with the
international experience, where women were very rarely enfranchised without some
657 Christine Bard, Les Filles de Marianne: Histoire des Feminismes 1914-1940. Paris: Fayard (1995)
p. 19.
658 Perrot, “The New Eve and the Old Adam” p. 53.
659 See Paul Smith, Feminism and the Third Republic: Women’s Political and Civil Rights in France,
1918-1945. New York: Oxford University Press (1996) esp. Chapter 3.
163
tumultuous occurrence, such as a war or a switch to a different form of government.
Perrot and Roberts also differ on the pre-war period, Perrot asserting, “The turn of the
century was a time of prodigious invention and novelty which raised significant
questions about the social organization of gender, but this questioning was soon
silenced by the war.” Compare this to Roberts’ “They [legislators, novelists, social
reformers, journalists, and feminists of all political stripes] demonstrated a strong
urge to return to a pre-war era of security, a world without violent change.”660 In this
quote Roberts is clearly talking of a perception of a lack of change, but there is still
considerable gap between the two 661 The most likely explanation is that both are
overestimating the impact of the war. As Therese Pottecher concluded in La Grande
Revue in 1910, “feminism has gained sincere ground in public opinion. Yet this
success is little in the face of the conquests that still need to be made over the spirit of
our nation.”662
Perrot’s argument on turbulent gender relations before the war is supported by
Margaret Darrow’s claims that
According to a host of commentators at the end of the nineteenth century, the French family, society
and nation were all in desperate straits because women were refusing to be feminine and men were not
being sufficiently masculine. ‘Female emancipation’ was the leading culprit.663
Almost all the fears that appeared in the post-war period over the damage done to
society by women not acting accordance with the roles nature had prescribed them
are echoed before 1914. In his influential book, The Sexual Question, August Forel
argued “The modem tendency of women to become pleasure-seekers and to take a
660 Perrot, “The New Eve and the Old Adam” p. 60, Roberts, Civilization Without Sexes, p. 10.
661 In a more recent book, Roberts has suggested that “While the issue o f female identity remained at
the forefront of postwar concerns, the failure of liberal beliefs to make sense of the war changed the
focus of this preoccupation. The fin-de-siecle New Woman gave way to the postwar Modem Woman,
who came to represent not so much a threat to (a relatively stable) liberal culture as the full-blown
crisis of liberal culture itself.” Mary Louise Roberts, Disruptive Acts: The New Woman in Fin-de-Siecle
France. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (2002) p. 249. By contrast, this thesis argues that
traditional beliefs were successful in making sense of the war (at least as regards gender relations) and
ensured that the Modem Woman was no more able to transcend those beliefs than the pre-war New
Woman.
662 Jennifer Waeti-Walters and Steven C. Hause, Feminisms o f the Belle Epoque: A Historical and
Literary Anthology. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press (1994) p. 62.
663 Darrow, French Women and the First World War, p. 9.
164
dislike to maternity leads to the degeneration of society. This is a grave social
evil.”664 In 1913, Paul Leroy-Beaulieu wrote “The masculinisation of women is, from
fif.C
all points of view, one of the grave dangers facing contemporary civilisation.”
In
the same year, Theodore Joran received a prize from the Academie des sciences
morales et politique for his work “Le Suffrage des Femmes” in which he asserted that
the feminist argument “is only a tissue of errors, ravings and sophisms.”666 According
to H. Thulie, writing in 1898, degenerate prostitutes whose destiny was “to be
delivered over to deplorable excesses, to undergo the most abominable miseries, and
to fall into the most shameful and abasing degradations whose torments are marked
by the perpetual pursuit of new pleasures and the incessant satisfaction of their erotic
frenzy.”667 Robert Nye points out that Thulie, like most observers, “saw worsening
degeneracy affecting women by miring them ever more deeply in ‘female’ crimes like
prostitution.”668
Annie Stora-Lamarre has argued that the immediate pre-war period saw the peak of a
panic about pornography and erotic literature.
Elle (the woman) se trouve a la intersection de la complaisance et de la violence qui est une constante
de Perotisme morbide et sanglant des annees 1900. Sur le theme des ravages de la passion, la femme
seme le plaisir, la luxure et la mort.669
Alain Corbin agrees, arguing that the activities of “those who were engaged in the
struggle against pornography and licentiousness intensified.” Supervision of
prostitution became more severe. Pornography prosecutions peaked from 1910 to
1914, as it was believed to be feminising the nation while war loomed.
A7fi
The years
664 Dijkstra, Idols o f Perversity, p. 216.
665 quoted in Elisa Camiscioli, “Producing Citizens, Reproducing the ‘French Race’: Immigration,
Demography and Pronatalism in Early Twentieth Century France” in Gender & History, 13-3
(November 2001) p. 601.
666 Waeti-Walters and Hause, Feminisms o f the Belle Epoque, p. 38 n. 6.
667 Robert A. Nye, “Degeneration and the Medical Model o f Cultural Crisis in the French Belle
Epoque” in Seymour Drescher, David Sabean and Allan Sharlin (eds.) Political Symbolism in Modern
Europe; Essays in Honor o f George L. Mosse. New Brunswick: Transaction (1982) p. 30.
668 Nye, “Degeneration” p. 39.
669 Stora-Lamarre, “Plaisirs Interdits” p. 48.
670 Alain Corbin, Women for Hire: Prostitution and Sexuality in France after 1850 New York:
Harvard University Press (1990) pp. 326-327. Annie Stora-Lamarre, L ’Enfer de la Ille Republique.
Paris: Imago (1990) p. 203.
165
leading up to the war also saw several novels that showed the positive effects of war
in regenerating society, in a society that clearly needed such regeneration.
671
The ill-effects on the health o f women working in the professions had been picked up
as early as 1900 by the doctor Vaucaire who noted of these young women that “Les
petits prodiges ont les yeux cemes, les levres blanches; ils sont pales, chetifs; leurs
mouvements deviennent langoureux, les muscles n’ont plus aucune souplesse, les
•
poumons ne savent pas respirer, Testomac ne digere pas, le peau fonctionne mal.”
f\
79
The pre-war debate on hysteria was also framed in the context of social dislocation.
In 1883, Henri Legrand de Saulle published Les Hysteriques, which argued that, due
to hereditary and social factors, women o f the lower classes were greatly affected by
this illness. Upper class women and, to a lesser extent, those from the middle classes
were also affected. Those suffering from hysteria saw their character suffer, they
became “egoistes, capricieuses, irritables, desireuses d’attirer Tattention”. The
consequences of this illness were not always negative; sometimes they could lead to
acts of great self-abnegation. Thus he described a woman who saved several children
from a burning house, with no thought of her own safety, as acting under the
influence of hysteria.673 For Charles Richet, it was social changes that were
responsible for hysteria: “la realite inferieure au reve; c’est un maladie commune aux
declasses, aux jeunes filles de la classe inferieure qui re9oivent une education
superieure a leur etat.”674 Grasset remained attached to a traditional explanation “Sans
vouloir manquer ici de galanterie, je ferai remarquer que la plupart des traits de
•
•
•
caractere des hysteriques ne sont que Texageration du caractere feminin,”.
A few months before the outbreak o f war the Petit Marseillais noted the progress of
the “fille modeme”
671
672
673
674
675
Darrow, French Women and the First World War, p. 12.
Yvonne Knibiehler, Catherine Fouquet, La Femme et les Medecins. Paris: Hachette (1983) p. 218.
Knibiehler, Fouquet, La Femme et les Medecins, p. 223.
Knibiehler, Fouquet, La Femme et les Medecins, p. 223.
Knibiehler, Fouquet, La Femme et les Medecins, p. 223.
166
Des la fin du xixe siecle, la jeune fille modeme a pressenti ses destinees: elle a constitue, dans le sein
des vieilles nations lasses, comme un sort de grande peuple neuf. C’est elle, sans appui et sans guide,
qui a mene son evolution.
Although the author generally approved of the changes achieved by the modem girl,
he noted that “[e]lle a ete extremement maligne”.676
If it seems clear that the early years of the twentieth century were marked by
significant anxiety over gender relations, is Perrot correct to suggest that only the war
prevented this debate from leading to significant changes in women’s position? It
seems difficult to believe that the assumptions of an improvement in conditions by
contemporaries were wholly without foundation. In an article on “La femme et la
guerre” that appeared in La Petite Gironde in 1916, the author commented
approvingly that before the war when women had claimed legal and economic
equality, men had responded with ironic disdain or brutal contempt. It had taken the
catacylsm of war to alter this situation. By rendering women indispensable the war
had allowed women to take the rights that previously they had only been able to ask
for, as well as helping to save France. The bourgeois wife had become a nurse to the
wounded, the refugees and the unfortunate, the wives of industrialists and
shopkeepers had taken over their tasks. Everywhere, the article argued, women had
replaced men.677
The assumptions of progress for women in society were often taken for granted.
Those who argued in favour o f the new fashions of clothes and hair argued that they
were suitable for the newly emancipated woman. A spokesman for the Institut des
coiffeurs des dames de France suggested that short hair could be a sign of feminism
and equality.
f.n o
In 1927 designer Jacques Worth wrote “The war changed women’s
lives forcing them into an active life, and, in many cases, paid work.” The Carrieres
feminines intellectuelles, which was published in 1923, stated that “The war has
676 Le Petit Marseillais, 20 March, 1914. For other evidence o f disputed gender relations before the
war, see also Annelise Maugue, L ’Identite Masculine en crise: Au tournant du siecle, 1871-1914, Paris:
Editions Rivages (1987), Christopher Thompson “Un troisieme sexe? Les bourgeoisies et la bicyclette
dans la France fin de siecle.” in Mouvement Social 192 (2000) pp. 9-39.
677 La Petite Gironde, 23 July, 1916.
678 L ’Eclair du Midi, 24 January, 1919.
167
emancipated women, and the majority of professions that, up until now have been
closed to them, are now opening.”679 The 1920s saw a huge increase in women in
higher education. As Thebaud admits “The war broke down age-old barriers and
opened many prestigious positions to women.”680 It must be acknowledged though
that these are references to a minority of educated middle class women. While the
significance of their progress should not be underestimated, their experience was
different to that o f the vast majority o f women at the time. There were changes for
working women as well; the number o f women in unions, which rose from 30,900 in
1900 to 89,300 in 1914, took off to reach 239,000 in 1920. The comparable male
figures were 588,000, 1,026,000 and 1,355,000.681 Working women also left the
home as a place of work; domestic service and textile piecework both declined.682
This may or may not be considered as necessarily a good thing, but it does show that
women were not being confined to the hearth.
There was also more personal freedom in dress and hairstyle. Although the bob was
controversial, it became more and more popular. It is important to remember how
tight the constraints on women were before the war. For example, Hubertine Auclert
was refused accommodation in a hotel because, as a single woman traveller, she was
seen as being immoral.
ART
These things were much less likely to happen after a war
when women had been forced/free to travel around on their own.
Marriage may also have been more pleasant for women. In the wake of the war men
tended to marry older women, this being one of the ways to get round the gender
imbalance caused by the war. This may have given women more equality in the
marriage than there would have been with a greater age difference.
If the marriage
didn’t work, divorce was more available. In 1900 there were just over 7000, in 1913
15,450. 1920 and 1921 saw the peak o f divorce with 29,156 and 32,557 carried out
679 Roberts, Civilization Without Sexes, pp. 77-81, p. 80, p. 188.
680 Thebaud, “The Great War and the Triumph o f Sexual Division” p. 39-40.
681 Matte Albistur and Daniel Armogathe, Histoire du feminisme frangais du moyen age a nos jours,
Paris : Editions des Femmes, (1977) p. 358.
682 Roberts, Civilization Without Sexes, p. 12.
683 Felicia Gordon and Maire Cross, Early French Feminisms, 1830-1940 : a Passion for Liberty,
Cheltenham : Edward Elgar, (1996) p. 248.
684 James F. McMillan, France and Women, 1789-1914: Gender, society and politics. London:
Routledge, (2000) p. 126.
168
respectively. After that it settled down to around 20,000 a year.685 Sex may also have
been les traumatic for some women, as there were more official sources of
information than previously. “Although sexual education for women remained a taboo
subject before the war, in the post-war years, well-known doctors, sociologists,
educators, and government officials debated it openly.” From 1925, government
funded lectures on the subject by the Comite d’education feminine.686 Though most
women still learned from relations and friends, those who for some reason would not
or could not do so now had alternative sources of information..
These changes are important and may have had significant impact on the day to day
lives of Frenchwomen in the 1920s. They do not, though, suggest that either a radical
evolution in gender attitudes was brought about by the war, or indeed that in the war
the opposite had occurred and that traditional interpretations were bolstered by the
conflict. The book Manage Moderne by Resclauze de Bermon highlights both the
perception of social dislocation that was present during the war as well as the
restricted nature of radical behaviour. It was serialised in La Petite Gironde which
claimed in its advertisements that “L’auteur a analyse avec une surete et une
franchisses saisissantes Tame de la jeune fille, de la jeune femme d’aujourd’hui”.687
The book is written from the viewpoint of Yvonne, a young woman from a very
respectable family. She is beautiful and feminine and she doesn’t work, her primary
concern as the book starts being her dowry. Her nature as a modem woman only
becomes clear when she asserts
Or, j ’ai la pretention d’etre de mon temps, c ’est-a-dire pratique, avec tout ce que le bon gout actuel
autorise de sentimentalite. Je veux que mon mari me plaise, qu’une sympathie susceptible de devenir
quelque chose de beaucoup plus tendre m’attire vers lui, que son age soit en harmonie avec le mien et
aussi que par sa fortune ou par son travail, il puisse m’assurer la vie large que j ’aime.688
Soon afterwards she made it clear that her husband’s primary duty would be to aid
her life of pleasure “Ce qu’il me faut, c ’est un mari qui soit capable non seulement de
685 Zeldin, France, 1848-1945, p. 358.
686 Roberts, Civilization Without Sexes, p. 184.
687 La Petite Gironde, 7 April, 1916.
688 La Petite Gironde, 8 April, 1916.
169
me comprendre, mais de me suivre.”689 For this reason she rejects the mentality of
Gaston, a prospective suitor who wishes to remain loyal to his roots and farm like his
ancestors. She finds the prospect o f marrying a gentleman farmer dull; instead she
wants to live life fully.690
Instead of marrying the safe Gaston, she meets a stranger called Roger and is swept
off her feet by him. She agrees to marry him.691 The marriage goes badly, in a very
traditional manner; Roger gambles unsuccessfully, and then is caught having an
affair. Yvonne tries nonetheless to maintain the relationship. Roger continues to
spend her money. Eventually he becomes so indebted that he kills himself.
While the book seeks to portray Yvonne as representative of a new type of
emancipated women, and a product o f the modem age, what is most noticeable is how
much her behaviour remains within traditional female norms. She goes against the
wishes of her parents, who want her to marry Gaston. However, she does not ignore
their wishes entirely, she tries to gain their approval and waits until it is eventually
granted. Roger was a perfectly good match socially, and it was he who was in full
control over their courtship. Despite the disastrous nature of the marriage, Yvonne
does not seek recourse to adultery or divorce but remains loyal to Roger and allows
him to spend her dowry.
ftQO
Denatalite
One of the major reasons why it is considered that the developments that occurred
during the war years were not continued, or were reversed, is the issue of denatalite.
The war had cost a vast number o f the lives of young men, while at the same time
displaying graphically that early twentieth-century warfare required very large
armies. Clemenceau intended no exaggeration in his comment on the treaty of
Versailles that “the treaty does not specify that Franceshould commitherself to
bearing many children, but that is the first thingthat should have beenwritten there.
689 La Petite
690 La Petite
691 La Petite
692 La Petite
Gironde,
Gironde,
Gironde,
Gironde,
10 April,
12 April,
22 April,
27 April,
1916.
1916.
1916.
1916, 22 April, 1916.
170
This is because if France renounces la famille nombreuse, you can put whatever fine
clause in the treaty you want, you can take away all the armaments in Germany, you
can do whatever you want. France will be lost because there won’t be any more
French people.” The pronatalist organisations reflect this: L ’alliance nationale pour
I’accroissement de la population frangaise received a considerable boost from the
war. Pour la Vie was created in 1916.693 However, while the events of the war had
heightened concerns over depopulation, the issue had been considered important for
many years - in July 1914 the Petit Marseillais could claim of the question of
depopulation, “puisqu’il n’en est pas de plus grave a la heure presente...”694 The
debate over depopulation and low levels of natality was so well rehearsed that when
the Comite Consultatif d’action economique of the Toulouse region asked its sub­
committees to comment on the issue, it commented that “il n’a certainement pas eu la
pensee de provoquer des joutes oratoires sur la decadence des pays de ‘celibataires et
des filles uniques’.”695
The consequences of attempts to increase the birthrate could impact on every area of
a woman’s life. If the obvious example is the legislation that outlawed contraceptive
propaganda and toughened the anti-abortion laws, it had many other aspects. Those
who opposed female suffrage argued (somewhat tendentiously) that countries that had
adopted it had seen their birthrate fall. Others believed that working women were less
likely to have children, and campaigned for their return to the hearth. Some
conservatives saw even the figure o f the “new woman” with her lack of breasts and
hips as a rejection of nourishment and motherhood.696 The campaign for motherhood
and the birth rate helped justify closing many nursing and day care facilities after the
war. 697
Fears over the French population also affected French attitudes towards foreigners.
Even in an admiring article on soldiers from Britain and her colonies, Pierre Mille
could not escape the spectre of how marriages between foreign troops and French
693 Bard, Thebaud, “Les effets antifeministe de la Grande Guerre” p. 153.
69A Le Petit Marseillais, 10 July, 1914.
695 AN F/12/8011, 3 September, 1917.
696 Roberts, Civilization Without Sexes, pp. 72-3.
697 Mathile Dubesset, Fran9oise Thebaud and Catherine Vincent “The Female Munition Workers of
the Seine” in Patrick Fridenson (ed.) The French Home Front 1914-1918, Oxford: Berg (1992) p. 200.
171
women might result in those women going overseas.698 In the Depeche, General Z.
argued that because o f depopulation there would be no French people left by the year
2112. The loss of so many men in the war only exacerbated this situation, potentially
halving the time until French extinction. His despairing conclusion was that “En 2112
il n’y a pas un Fran9ais dans notre pays. Tous seraient remplaces par des
etrangers.”699 The Comite Consultatif d’action economique de la 17eme region also
fretted about whether immigration was a reliable way to maintain France’s
population. “Nous ne nous maintenions avant la guerre aux environs de 39.000
d’habitants que grace a Tappoint inquietant de 1’immigration.”700 L ’CEuvre was more
resigned to the need for immigration, but hoped it could be simply a stop-gap. It
contended that France’s slow population growth compared to Germany and AustriaHungary meant there was a need to repopulate France. Naturally all possible
measures needed to be taken to encourage births, but such measures would not bear
fruit for 25 years and thus immigration was necessary to cover the intervening
period.701
It has been argued that the concern for the size of the population can be exaggerated,
and that it was used as a tool to gain support for other political issues, including the
removal of women from the workplace. After all, there was very little actual
legislative action taken beyond the 1920 law forbidding antinatalist propaganda.
Roberts argues that the even the aims of the 1920s law were not strictly demographic.
Instead “... it sought specifically to bring women’s sexual practices under legislation
by attacking abortion and female forms of contraception.” Roberts offers three
reasons in support of this hypothesis. Firstly that it did not deal with male forms of
birth control (prophylactics), secondly that the respected expert Adolphe Pinard’s
opposition was disregarded, and thirdly that the deputies themselves had a small
number of children.702
698 Le Petit Marseillais, 1 June, 1917.
699 La Depeche, 3 October, 1916.
700 AN F/12/8011, 3 September, 1917.
701 L ’CEuvre, 10 October, 1916.
702 Roberts, Civilization Without Sexes, p. 96.
172
The significance of Pinard’s opposition should not be overstated as it was countered
by several other experts speaking in favour. The last argument is also unconvincing,
as it is quite possible that the deputies may have thought that an increase in
population was necessary for France but found it to their own taste or advantage to
limit their own children. Similarly, La Bataille mocked L ’(Euvre for having claimed
in 1916 that “Apres la guerre, madame, vous ne serez pas une ‘honnete femme’, si
vous n’avez pas au moins trois enfants.” The reason for La Bataille's derision was not
that it disagreed with the statement itself but that Gustave Tery himself only had two
70T
children.
In addition, other than a shortage of men to enlist in the armies, the
•
•
greatest fear that a falling population posed at the time was rural depopulation. As
one of the most noticeable factors in the makeup of the French legislature was the
scarcity of peasants, it was less essential that they reproduced.
The exemption of male forms o f contraception is significant; the legislation was
clearly attempting to create a position where men were intended to have choice over
procreation and women were not. There certainly was an element of attempting to
increase social control over women, but the legislation could also be seen as
presenting women as the reason for denatalite. Furthermore the concern over syphilis
and other sexual transmitted diseases would certainly have played a part in deciding
to retain the legality of prophylactics. It should also be noted that conservative
pronatalists delighted in the election results of 1919, proclaiming them a great
improvement on those o f 1914, so some increase in pronatalist activity might have
been expected under any circumstance.704
The legislative action also fitted firmly into the wartime rhetoric on the subject.
Before the Congres de l’Association Nationale d’Expansion Economique, M.
Souchon delivered a speech on the needs of agriculture. When he came to natalite the
audience gave a warm reception to his speech. He asserted “la question de la natalite
n’est pas une question legale, la question de la natalite est une question morale”. Once
again the problem was seen as propaganda: “il est certain qu’au cours de ces demieres
annees, des propagandes criminelles ont ete faites contre la famille fran9aise, helas!
703 La Bataille, 2 July, 1916.
704 Roberts, Civilization Without Sexes, p. 101.
173
par des Frangais!” While in general he opposed state interference, it was necessary for
the law to counter this. Another speaker at the same conference noted that
depopulation of the countryside was threatening to compromise national prosperity.
His first recommendation was for severe measures to be taken against “odieuse
propagande contre la race, trop frequente dans les campagnes comme dans les
villes.”705
Souchon gives one reason why there was a limit to the legislative action taken on the
issue, the dislike of many influential Frenchmen to grant the power to the state to
interfere in their actions whether personal or professional. An equally pressing reason
was economics. The war had done a great deal of damage to France’s financial
capability, and it is unsurprising that various governments, committed in principle to
encouraging les families nombreuses, felt they were financially unable to give
fiduciary incentives, or tax breaks to large families. Where there were cheap
expedients then they were utilised. Thus when colonial troops were needed to make
up the shortfall in French soldiers after the war, Echenberg argues that conscription
was made into a systematic peace time institution in French West Africa, because this
•
was cheaper than voluntary recruitment, which required higher pay.
nc\f\
It is possible that the war was part of a shift in the emphasis of the campaign to
increase the birthrate, a shift from attempting to persuade the male head of the
household to give his wife more children, to persuading the wife herself of the need.
Pedersen’s account o f the long history o f the 1920 pronatalist legislation illustrates
this. In 1910 Senator Lannelongue introduced a proposal aimed at increasing the
birthrate by offering inducements to fathers. By 1913, this had been revised by
Strauss and Besnard, who switched the focus “almost exclusively on to women’s
interaction with the medical profession.” It was also more repressive and offered
fewer inducements.707 The legislation remained stalled until 1920 when Ignace
extracted a few of the repressive articles on abortion, anti-natalist propaganda and
705 AN F/12/8001, 26 March, 1917.
706 Myron Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts: The Tirailleurs Senegalais in French West Africa, 18571960. Portsmouth NH.: Heinemann (1991) p. 43.
707 Jean Elisabeth Pedersen “Regulating Abortion and Birth Control: Gender, Medicine, and
Republican Politics in France, 1870-1920”in French Historical Studies, 19-3 (1996) pp. 684-686.
174
female contraception and put them forward on their own. Both houses passed them
easily.
Zola’s pre-war natalist tract Fecondite glorified woman as a mother and a
housekeeper, not as a factory worker. However its main argument was to glorify
fertile peasant life, compared to the urban bourgeois with their child limitation
strategies and individualist morality. In it, Dr. Boutain warns the hero Mathieu
Froment about the perils of contraception.
One cannot deceive an organ with impunity. Imagine a stomach which one continually tantalized with
an indigestible lure whose presence unceasingly called forth the blood while offering nothing to digest.
Every function that is not exercised according to the normal order becomes a permanent source of
danger. You stimulate a woman, contenting her only with the spasm, and you have only satisfied her
desire, which is simply the enticing stimulant; you have not acceded to fertilization, which is the goal,
the necessary and indispensable act. And you are surprised when this betrayed and abused organism,
diverted from its proper use, reveals itself to be the seat of terrible disorders, disgraces and
perversions!708
Cole argues that this declaration o f Dr. Boutain implies that female contraception is
being used, but the whole passage seems to grant the entire agency to the man and
with it the choice of whether to use contraception.709
The declaration of Doctor Boutain can be contrasted with this post-war claim
Quel est le grand devoir de la femme? Enfanter, encore enfanter, toujours enfanter. Que la femme se
refuse a la matemite, qu’elle la limite, qu’elle la supprime et la femme ne merite plus ses droits; la
femme n’est plus rien.710
Not only does this make women’s role in society quite clear it also implies “la femme
se refuse” that it is the woman who is responsible for the refusal. This is the same as
the argument made by Clement Vautel in Madame ne veut pas d ‘enfant. Vautel’s
708 Joshua H. Cole, ‘“There Are Only Good Mothers’: The Ideological Work of Women's Fertility in
France before World War I” in French Historical Studies, 19-3 (1996) p. 640.
709 Cole, ‘There Are Only Good Mothers’ p. 671.
710 Fran?oise Thebaud, Quand nos grand-meres donnaient la vie: La Matemite en France dans I’entre
deux guerres Lyon: Presses Universitaires de Lyon (1986) p. 85.
175
work also contrasted the fertility o f the working class with the sterility of the
bourgeoisie.711
However, a report on depopulation in 1917 by the Comite Consultatif d’action
economique of the Tolouse region made it clear that they believed the problem was
with male behaviour.
Le celibataire, surtout le celibataire fils de famille, tient en France le haut de pave. II occupe les hauts
emplois, reussit dans la politique, echappe aux plus lourdes de nos charges, debauche nos filles,
detoume nos femmes, affiche ses maitresses, donne les plus pemicieux exemples ... et est consider^.712
It was necessary for him to be seen as a bad citizen, to tax him heavily, to exclude him
from certain functions, occupations and offices. The report also argued that part of the
opprobrium should be levelled at households without children or those with less than
three, but the bachelor was the main target o f their aim.713 Henry Spont in his book La
Femme et la guerre followed a similarly traditional line, arguing that women were
still defined by their motherhood, and that those without children were condemned to
that unhappy fate by their rejection by men.
Aux meres ffan?aises!
Heureuses ou non, (the married woman) elles ont justifie les espoirs de leur famille, elles ont atteint le
but propose, elles sont desormais en regie avec la nature, avec la societe. [...] elles peuvent marcher la
tete haute, sortir seules, promener les enfants, qui consacrent la noblesse et l’utilite de leur role.
Voila des creatures dignes d’estimes, qui remplissent bien leur mission.
Mais les autres, celles que l’homme a dedaignees! Quelle tristesse, quelle humiliation de se sentir un
etre indesirable, encombrant qui va trainer sa vie en marge de la grande route et disparaitre sans laisser
des traces, apres avoir trahi les plus legitimes esperances!714
Spont argued that men rejected women primarily because they did not provide enough
in the way of dowries.715 He suggested a variety o f unhappy life paths that might be
711 Roberts, Civilization Without Sexes, p. 131-137.
712 AN F/12/8011, 3 September, 1917.
713 AN F/12/8011, 3 September, 1917.
176
taken by the rejected women. Some would just go on living with their parents, or live
on their own in solitary misery, others would go into employment and some would
revolt. These would be the ones who end up in unions libres, where they would
71f\
inevitably be betrayed. Spont indignantly denied that these women were to blame,
“Est-ce leur faute? Non! Toutes ont souhaite se marier, etre meres.” It was the fault
of the man, too demanding, and scornful of his responsibilities.717
L ’Eclair du Midi came out in favour o f a financial solution, in this case assistance to
parents of large families, and reported that they had received a large amount of
positive feedback for this idea from their readership. Once again the problem was
considered to be practical rather than due to a crisis in female behaviour.718 Likewise,
Galeot in his book L ’A venir de la race ascribed the problem to material difficulties,
explicitly focussing on paternity. “Dans l’etat actuel de notre organisation sociale et
de nos moeurs, la patemite est pour presque universality des citoyens un tres lourd
710
sacrifice materiel.”
Clement Chausse in his book on pregnant women working in munitions factories
suggested that the key way to increase natality was financial incentives. He made no
mention of female morality, “La grossesse restera un accident tant que la vie normale
n’aura pas repris son cours et tant que Tenfant sera une trop lourde charge pour ses
parents.”720 Pierre Mille also believed that the solution was to offer financial
inducements for large families, and the Lyon branch of the Ligue populaire des peres
et meres de families nombreuses launched its periodical by calling for economic and
political advantages for large families.
791
Pronatalists also worked to convince women of the desirability of having babies. Paul
Haury argued that maternity was the essence of female psychology; Femand Boverat
714 Spont, La Femme et la Guerre, pp. 16-17.
715 Spont, La Femme et la Guerre, p. 18.
716 Spont, La Femme et la Guerre, pp. 20-22.
717 Spont, La Femme et la Guerre, p. 22.
718 L'Eclair du Midi, 19 September, 1916.
719 A.-L. Galeot, L ’A venir de la race, Paris: Nouvelle Libraire Nationale (1917), p. 214.
720 Clement Chausse, A propos des usines de guerre et des femmes enceintes, Paris: Jouve & Cie
(1917), p. 60.
721 Le Petit Marseillais, 19 June, 1916, Nos Enfants. Spring 1916, p. 5.
177
claimed that the infant satisfied “le plus profond des instincts qui existe chez la
femme. Cartoons in the natalist journal “La femme et Tenfant” showed children
bringing happiness to miserable relationships.722 Other natalists emphasised it more
as a duty than a pleasure, Jacques Bertillon claiming “Between the violent causes of
devastation and Malthusianism there is one difference, the latter calamity, even as it
slowly destroys the country, makes none of its inhabitants suffer. How true it is that
•
•
•
•
723
the interests of individuals can be entirely opposed to those of the collectivity.”
Alfred Krug came to a similar conclusion in his 1918 pamphlet, Pour la
repopulation.
Auguste Isaac argued that society was arranged to the advantage of
those without children and asked “Qui sont done ces nigauds qui veulent avoir tant
no ^
d’enfants?”
Sebastien Marc, in his book Contre la Depoulation, also suggested that
it was a mental problem, but his suggested solution was a reform of the Civil Code
system of inheritance.
noft
The debate over France’s slow population growth was primarily characterised by the
diversity of opinions as to causes and remedies. This is illustrated by the Congres
National de la Natalite, held in Nancy in September 1919. Alexandre Dreux, President
of Nancy’s Chamber o f Commerce ascribed the failing birthrate to egotism and lack
of civic spirit, though he didn’t specify which sex he thought was primarily
responsible.727 Paul Bureau demanded “purification sociale”, the family vote,
subsidies for large families from the state and higher wages for large families from
their employers as well as a solution to the problem of bad housing in order to rectify
the situation.728 Auguste Isaac focussed on the ideal of a mother “qui ne soit pas
•
noo
obligee de travailler en usine et qui puisse s’occuper de ses enfants.”
•
Isaac did
mention the practical impact o f the war but he didn’t claim that there had been any
722 Thebaud, Quand nos grand-meres donnaient la vie p. 86, Roberts, Civilization Without Sexes.
723 Cole, ‘There Are Only Good Mothers’ p. 658.
724 Grayzel, Woman’s Identities at War, p. 105. Alfred Krug, Pour la Repopulation, Nancy: BergerLevrault (1918).
725 Auguste Isaac, Discours au dejuner mensuel de I’Union du Commerce & de I’Industrie pour la
Defense sociale, Paris: Secretariat de “La plus grande famille” (1917) p. 21.
726 Sebastien Marc, Contre la Depoulation, Le Mans: Benderitter (1918).
727 Congres National de la Natalite, Nancy, 25-28 September, 1919, Nancy: Imprimeries Reunies de
Nancy (1919) p. 12.
728 Congres National de la Natalite.
729 Congres National de la Natalite, p. 21 My emphasis, by acknowledging that women had been
forced into undertaking work in the factories, Isaac is evidently reducing the blame placed on women.
178
changes in morality resulting from the war, except that the allocation had accustomed
people to accepting subsidies from the state.730
While observers generally agreed that the work done by women during the war had
had a negative impact on the birthrate they differed on whether this was to be a
permanent change. A report by Dr Lesage for the Comite du travail feminin argued
that
Certains esprits, forts et sceptiques, disent, en semant le pessimisme, que l’ouvriere ne veut plus
d’enfants et que ce n’est pas la peine de creer des chambres d’allaitement. Mille fois non..! Ayons
confiance en elle. Quand, en ce moment, on la voit en pleine valeur, en plein travail, en pleine fievre
patriotique, forger l’airain sacre, on est saisi d’une angoisse reconnissante. Comme le poilu a la
tranchee, l’ouvriere a sauve le pays.
Non, Mesdames et Messieurs, quand le cyclone sera calme, nous verrons l’ouvriere reprendre la vie
commune et se consacrer a ses devoirs de matemite, consciente de sa force, consciente de sa valeur,
consciente de sa dignite.731
Despite this diversity o f views, the idea that women could actually contribute to
finding a solution was rare. As he acknowledged, the deputy Charles Chaumet was
unusual in making an argument in favour o f female suffrage in order to gain female
input into which legislative changes were needed to boost the birthrate.
Nous ne pouvons en fixer les dispositions pratiques sans la collaboration de la femme. Elle doit avoir
voix au chapitre dans ces questions delicates aussi bien que lorsqu’il s’agit de l’education des jeunes
filles et des conditions des travail. Et c ’est pourquoi, au grand scandale de certains de mes plus chers
amis, je suis partisan du suffrage des femmes.732
The Ligue populaire des peres et meres de families nombreuses certainly didn’t share
Chaumet’s position, arguing that granting the vote to women would do nothing to
change France’s population situation, and that only the introduction of the family vote
730 Congres National de la Natalite, p. 23, pp. 26-21.
731 Comite du travail feminin, Protection et utilisation de la main d ’ceuvre feminine, 19 December,
1916, p.158.
732 La Petite Gironde, 18 August, 1918.
179
could be effective. Advocating allowing widows with children the vote was the
closest they came to support for female suffrage.
Fran9oise Thebaud notes wryly that when attempts were made to persuade the French
to procreate that men were offered money, women were offered medals.734 While it is
difficult to argue that this was not based on a condescending view of women, it may
also have been an attempt to link female medals for fertility with male military
decorations; both had performed the duty that nature had bestowed upon them.
This is not to say that the behaviour o f women was never held to be responsible for
declining birth rates. For Paul Bureau, female work in industry and commerce was the
major obstacle towards an increase in the birthrate, with celibacy, concubinage and
the selfishness of young married couples as secondary reasons.
George d’Esparbes
also blamed women working, claiming that it resulted in either “F ignorance ou
l’egoisme” which then reduced natality. This ignorance also increased infant
mortality, as women no longer were learning how to look after babies. D’Esparbes
suggested the best solution was the “renvoi aux foyers des meres de famille.”
However, he didn’t believe that the war was to blame for women being forced to
work, claiming instead that it was too late to “detruire un systeme de travail etabli
H'lf.
depuis des annees.”
Adolphe Pinard noted that infant mortality had risen in 1916
compared to 1915. He believed that pregnant women had been seduced by high
wages, and were not taking advantage of protection available to them. “Nous le
savons et avec une certitude absolue: le travail de Vusine et son gain a ete pour les
pauvres femmes en etat de gestation, pour les meres necessiteuses, un veritable miroir
a alouettes.” So he proposed forbidding entrance into a factory “dr toute femme en etat
de gestation, a toute femme allaitant son enfant, a toute femme accouchee depuis
moins de six mois.,,m M. Heron, in a report for L’Union du Sud-Ouest des Syndicats
d’Encouragement de Motoculture, argued that depopulation was partly caused by the
attractions of the towns with “le prix disproportionne des salaires offerts par
733 Nos Enfants. November-December 1918, p. 145, March-April 1917, p. 7.
734 Thebaud, Quand nos grand-meres donnaient la vie p. 91.
735 Bard, Thebaud, “Les effets antifeministe de la Grande Guerre” p. 153.
736 Le Petit Marseillais, 2 November, 1915.
737 La Matin, 6 December, 1916 (emphasis in the original).
180
l’industris, le gout de la toilette chez la femme.”738 In the Petit Marseillais, Durandy
blamed women for wanting to look pretty rather than having babies.
7^0
For all the natalist legislation and rhetoric, the level of the French population
continued to be static. “Malgre les lois, les Fran9ais etaient de plus en plus
malthusiens.”740 Restraint, contraception and abortion were all used to control family
size. In 1898, a member of the clergy wrote a letter to L ’Ami du clerge about
questioning in confession about contraception. “La reponse invariable sera celle-ci:
‘S’il faut avoir un enfant tous les neuf mois pour se confesser, je ne consentirai
jamais’.”741
Not only did people limit their own families, they were reluctant to condemn others
for it either. The move to switch from trial by jury to trial by judge for abortion
suggests that many people thought that abortion was understandable under certain
circumstances. Public discourse on the evils o f abortion was not matched by popular
action against it. Similarly, as Offen points out, “In no industrializing country had
women constituted so great a percentage of the labor force ... yet in no country did
(male) prescriptive rhetoric insist so strongly on the necessity of achieving the ideal of
a sexual division of labor”.742 A report by the Comite Consultatif d’action
economique for the Toulouse region in 1917 on the subject lamented
Le mal sur lequel nous sommes appeles a deliberer est connu. II a ete denonce par les rapporteurs des
statistiques de denombrement, par de courageux ecrivains et conferenciers; les Chambres de commerce,
l’Academie des sciences morales et politiques ont pousse le cri d’alarme; des commissions
parlementaires ont delibere sur la danger et ses palliatifs; l’intention de moderer “la course a l’abime” a
inspire quelques timides mesures legislatives...
However
738 AN F/12/8011, 27 June, 1917.
739 Le Petit Marseillais, 23 August, 1916.
740 Thebaud, Quand nos grand-meres donnaient la vie p. 91.
741 Martine Sevegrand, Limiter les naissances: Le cas de conscience des catholiques fran?ais (18801939) in Vingtieme Siecle 30 (Apr-June, 1991) p. 42.
742 Karen Offen, Women and the Politics o f Motherhood in France, 1920-1940. Florence: European
University Institute (1987) p. 11.
181
II ne parait cependant pas que la conscience nationale ait la notion aigue du peril. L’amour et la
fecondite sont restes en France matieres a propos legers, et aucun puissant mouvement d’opinion
tendant a l’avenir de la race n’a impressionne les pouvoirs publics.743
These instances show the problems of assuming that the population at large accepted
the rhetoric of the powerful. A further example is the issue of infant mortality. This
had been a major concern for republicans like Paul Strauss before the war, and there
was much debate on the issue. Rachel Fuchs, drawing on Roberts’ work, argues that
after World War One there was a significant change in emphasis, from trying to
reduce infant mortality to pushing motherhood as the desired role for women.744 Yet
infant mortality began to fall at this moment, while wet nursing declined sharply from
1916 as part of a considerable improvement in infant care.745
Monuments and Commemoration
The aftermath of the war saw the erection of memorials to the war dead throughout
France. Practically every commune built an individual monument to its dead. While
these monuments were sincerely intended to honour the heroes of France, they also
could have other meanings. Of course many communes were restricted by cost to
simple steles, but other monuments featured more intricate sculpture. This often led to
a great deal of controversy, particularly along the religious divide. The fights for
religious or secular commemoration were often bitter. The conflict was further
complicated by the 1905 Separation law, which forbade commemorative monuments
to have religious emblems, other than those in cemeteries. The ministry of the interior
send out a circular in April 1919, confirming that the law of 1905 remained in force.
This was changed in 1924, but by then most monuments had been built.746
743 AN F/l 2/8011, 3 September, 1917.
744 Rachel G. Fuchs, “Introduction to Forum: Population and the State in the Third Republic” in
French Historical Studies, 19-3 (1996), p. 634.
745 Anne-Marie Sohn, “Between the Wars in France and England” in Franfoise Thebaud (ed.) A
History o f Women, vol.5: Toward a Cultural Identity in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press (1994) pp. 105-106.
746 Antoine Prost, “Memoires Locales, M6moires Nationales: Les Monuments de 1914-1918 en
France.” Guerres mondiales et conflits contemporains, 167, (1992) p. 45.
182
The positioning of the monuments testifies to this. In Brittany, the vast majority were
in cemeteries, elsewhere it varied between the churchyard and town hall, symbols of
clericalism and secularism respectively. Occasionally the school or a public park
provided a more neutral setting, though even here the ecole laique carried ideological
baggage.747
Beyond this, Annette Becker argues that the sculptures also intended another
meaning, one that crossed the religious divide:
Les femmes y sont vierges comme des saintes, hautaines dans leur chagrin de veuves, figees dans leur
sens du devoir. On sent combien ces oeuvres sont une reconstruction ideologique. Les sculpteurs ont
reussi ce qu’on leur demandait: ressusciter l’Union Sacree et l’union des families, par-dela le drame.748
Daniel Sherman goes further, arguing that commemoration not only reinscribed
gender codes which had been disrupted in the war but also “that commemoration
itself played out, in gendered terms, a pervasive cultural unease in which nothing less
than the masculine cast of politics and national citizenship was at stake.”
During the nineteenth century, republicans built on the Revolutionary ideas of
republican citizenship and the citizen army to create “an inherent association of
citizenship, masculinity, and military service.” This is a very important point. Those
on the left who opposed the law returning to three years military service in 1914 often
did so within the context of defending the nation in arms. Vincent Auriol, writing in
the Midi Socialiste wanted to “defendre 1’armee nationale contre les criminelles
enterprises des foumisseurs interesses et des professionals du militarisme.” His
slogan was “Vive la Nation armee! mais a bas les trois ans! a bas TEmpire! Vive la
Paix Internationale!”749
Even when there was a distinctly pacifist tone to the
message, the citizen army was not denounced. According to a report by the prefect of
the Haute Garonne, the syndicalist Marty-Rolland believed that the people “ne
veulent plus la guerre, mais la paix, plus d’armee permanente, mais les milices
747 Annette Becker, Les Monuments aux Morts: Patrimonie et Memoire de la grande guerre, Paris:
Editions Errance (1988) p. 12.
748 Becker, Les Monuments aux Morts, p. 84.
749 Le Midi Socialiste, 12 May, 1913.
183
nationales.”750 It is noticeable that even those campaigning for the reduction in length
of military service rarely oppose its existence. Only on the extreme left was there
outright opposition to military service. In a pamphlet produced in May 1913 by the
Federation Communiste Anarchiste “Contre les armements, Contre la loi de 3 ans,
Contre tout militarisme” which concluded by advocating desertion, it urged
conscripts: “ne sois pas un fratricide, ne sois pas un assassin, sois un homme”.
The assertion that not to fight showed you were a man strongly implies that the
reverse was commonly held to be true.
It was also a common reason given for denying female suffrage that women had not
earned it through military service, and one which feminists felt they needed to
combat, childbirth often being posited as the female impot de sang. An example of
how close the association was is given by M Vignols, a syndicalist speaking in StMalo in May 1913 against the three years law. He argued that the suffering women
endure during gestation was significant, and it would be more profitable for everyone
if the fruit of their labours were to work rather than be cannon fodder. He thus
proposed that women launch a greve du ventre.
When women sought to present
themselves for registration on the electoral list in January 1914, the clerk in the
Eleventh Arrondissement responded ironically by asking for their certificates proving
military service.
The war, which provided a genuine example of the nation under
arms, should surely have reinforced this nexus. For Bard and Thebaud, “La guerre a
reactive la definition de la citoyennete qui associe droits politiques et devoir de
defendre sa patrie.”754 However, Sherman argues that the reverse was true.755
Sherman also argues that it was felt necessary to combat the threat posed by the
all-male world created in the trenches. His argument is based on the assertion that the
mutinies of 1917 constituted a threat to the patriarchal social order. Thus it was
necessary for commemoration to reinforce the traditional family order. He returns to
750 AN F/7/13339, 18 March, 1913.
751 AN F/7/13339, May, 1913.
752 AN F/7/13340. May, 1913.
753 Steven C. Hause with Anne R. Kenney, Women’s Suffrage and Social Politics in the French Third
Republic, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, (1984) p. 140.
754 Bard, Thebaud, “Les effets antifeministe de la Grande Guerre” p. 157.
755 Sherman, “Monuments, Mourning and Masculinity” p. 84.
184
this point by suggesting that war memorials involved a subliminal choice of poses,
atypical of the war, which represented masculinity as aggressive and heroic and
“repressed any lingering memories of homosocial friendship.”756 However, Sherman
also argues for the essential similarity of the various texts, commemorative speeches,
novels, memoirs and advice literature, which “framed the construction of monuments
and that, reciprocally,
monuments
helped to
legitimate.”757 Wartime and
commemorative texts however are all insistent on the existence of homosocial
friendship and the growth o f veterans associations was just the most obvious
manifestation of a desire to continue it. Thus if there was an attempt to construct
commemoration wholly in familial terms, there was also a strong ideological current
seeking to retain the image o f the brotherhood of the trenches.
Sherman describes how Pierre Andrianne, the hero of Maurice Genevoix’s la Joie is
disgusted at the “petty bickering that marked the construction of the monument”. This
is an example of how monuments were a contested site; a point Sherman makes
eloquently himself in another article, where he describes the various factions that
sought to control the commemoration process and their underlying motivations.
7^0
An
examination of the inauguration o f the monument to the dead of the Savoie gives a
clearer idea of the preoccupations o f those in charge of constructing a memorial.
One of the first things to be noted is that the committee appointed to deal with the
issue was very large - 35 people. The size and the composition of the committee
suggest that the desire was to achieve inclusivity in the design and creation of the
memorial, rather than to privilege an ideological position. That all 35 were male
suggests the limits of this inclusivity.759 In fact the affair was almost wholly male, all
the speeches being delivered by men. The only exception was a song “Hymne Aux
756 Sherman, “Monuments, Mourning and Masculinity” p.85, p. 92.
757 Sherman, “Monuments, Mourning and Masculinity” p.85.
758 Sherman, “Monuments, Mourning and Masculinity” p.88. Daniel J. Sherman, “Bodiesand Names:
the Emergence o f Commemoration in Interwar France” inAmerican Historical Review (1998) 103:2
pp. 443-466.
759 Inauguration du monument des Savoyards morts pour la France. Chambery : Impr. chamberienne;
libr. Dardel (1928) pp. 7-8.
185
Savoyards, morts pour la France” sung at the inauguration of the monument, which
was written by a woman, Marie-Rose Michaud Lapeyre.760
The speeches by Borrel, deputy and president of the committee, and Juilland, the
mayor of Chambery, both spent only a short time on the war itself, Juilland claiming,
“les evenements sont encore trop proches pour qu’il soit besoin de les rappeler.”761
Instead they utilised the glorious dead as supporters for their political cause. Both
claimed to be speaking on behalf o f the dead. In Borrel’s view they had fought for a
Republican France, for humanity, progress and justice, while for Juilland: “Ils
voulaient, nos morts, que la France put developper librement, sans crainte, a l’abri des
agressions, son clair et genereux genie dans les oeuvres de paix, de civilisation et de
progres.”762
The next speech by Gustave Pillet, Vice-President of the Savoie veteran’s association,
was very different, being almost entirely devoted to the war. While it strongly
focused on the sacrifices made by soldiers, it also offered a sympathetic view of
women and the supporting presence that they represented. He described those lost at
the front, fathers and brothers, but also “du Mari, qui n’ignorait pas la vaillance de
l’epouse, mais redoutait pour elle les brutalites de la vie;” and “du Fiance qui
apportait espoir et joyeux reve, et auquel allait incomber l’une des plus belles taches
de la vie: fonder un foyer.” Later on he says “Hommes de tout ages, qui avez vecu la
guerre a l’abri, - femmes qui n’en avez pas connu pas toutes les privations”.763 It is
also traditionalist, speaking o f the “task” of founding a family home. It does not
suggest that the war shook his view of gender relations; his references to women
seem to be motivated by a desire for all sections of the commune to be recognised
rather than as a focus for the speech.
760 Inauguration du monument des Savoyards, pp. 15-16. This pattern of men making speeches and
women’s role being restricted to singing patriotic songs is seen again in other inaugaration ceremonies.
Inauguration du Monument aux Morts de la Grande Guerre, Commune de Lux (1923), Fete
d ’inauguration du monument commemoratif de Longueville-sur-Aube. Troyes: Imprimerie Paul Bage
(1922)
761 Inauguration du monument des Savoyards, p. 27.
762 Inauguration du monument des Savoyards, p. 22 p. 28.
763 Inauguration du monument des Savoyards, p. 33, p. 35.
186
The final speaker was the guest o f honour, President Poincare, who devoted a long
portion of his speech to individual descriptions of the battalions, before continuing on
to justify his current foreign policy as based on the lessons of the war.
On the evidence of this, the preoccupations of those in charge of the monument were
fairly narrowly focused on their position in the masculine political agenda of the
Third Republic, with women excluded by default, rather than by intent. The fact that
it took until 1928 for the inauguration to take place also suggests there was no
desperate need for this particular form o f commemoration to combat a threat to that
masculine agenda arising from the war.
At the ceremony at Beauvais, the chair of the ceremony, M. Desgroux lauded the
sacrifices made by the soldiers, but also their families, arguing that the city had given
France “huit cents de ses meilleurs enfants qui l’ont sauvee par leur mort heroi'que,
pendant que leurs meres, leurs epouses, leurs bambins supportaient avec stoi'cisme les
assauts impuissants de la rage et de la barbarie teutonnes.”764 M. Largilliere, the Vice
President of the Beauvais veterans also sought inclusiveness amongst those who had
suffered.
Ils [anciens combattants] savent que vous n’oublierez pas les camarades morts et l’enseignement qu’ils
ont foumi, ils savent aussi que vous etes toujours pleins de bonte pour les mutiles, et que votre charite
pour les veuves et les orphelins est sans borne.765
The next speaker, M. Noel, a Senator from the Oise, like the politicians who spoke at
Chambery emphasised the current political situation, and how France needed to be
*
vigilant to combat the eternal Prussian threat.
766
An interesting, if unusual, monument is the one in Equeurdreville. Made by Emilie
Rodez, one of the few female sculptors commissioned to construct a monument, it
depicts a mother with two young children looking exhausted, dispirited. The
inscription read “Que Maudite Soit la Guerre. Aux enfants d’Equeurdreville morts
764 Inauguration du monument aux enfants de Beauvais, pp. 7-8
765 Inauguration du monument aux enfants de Beauvais, p. 13
766 Inaugaration du monument aux enfants de Beauvais, p. 15
187
pendant la guerre 1914-1918”, makes it one of the very few overtly pacifist
monuments in France.767
While the men responsible for the erection of the
monument must have accepted the design, it is an indication that women might have
had a different conception o f the war than that of the male establishment.
What did women think?
This study, like the vast majority o f studies on gender and the First World War, has
focused on male views o f women. Nevertheless, the patriarchal structures of
Republican France seem to have enjoyed at least the tacit support of most women,
and several studies have discussed the lack o f feminist activity against the oppression
of women. Of course this cannot be taken to imply that women unquestionably did
accept male discourse on society; there were several other factors that hindered the
development of feminist activity on the Anglo-American model, not least that the
Interior Ministry ordered the police to refuse almost all applications for feminist street
demonstrations throughout the existence o f the Third Republic. There thus remains
the question as to how women saw society at the time, and how the war modified
their understanding of it.
Susan Kent’s study of the effects o f the war on British feminism suggests that the war
had a dramatic impact on feminist perceptions of gender.
With the onset of the Great War, many feminists began to modify their understandings of masculinity
and femininity. Their insistence upon equality with men, and their acknowledgement o f the model of
sex war that accompanied that demand, gradually gave way to an ideology that emphasized women’s
special sphere - a separate sphere, in fact - and carried with it an urgent belief in the relationship
between the sexes as one o f complementarity. Pre-war feminists had vigorously attacked the notion of
separate spheres and the medical and scientific discourses upon which those spheres rested. Many
feminists after the First World War, by contrast, pursued a program that championed rather than
challenged the pervading ideas about masculinity and femininity...768
767 A. Becker, Les Monuments aux Morts p. 76, According to Becker, there were no more than 5 or 6
explicitly pacifist memorials in France.
768 Kent, “Love and Death", pp. 154-155.
188
This change was brought about primarily through the shock felt by British women at
the dreadful realities of the war. Simultaneously admiring the heroism of the soldiers,
and horrified at the brutality needed to fight it, to women it seemed a graphic
illustration that men and women were better suited for different tasks. A flavour of
this attitude is displayed in the views of Millicent Fawcett in October 1914
While the necessary, inevitable work o f men as combatants is to spread death, destruction, red ruin,
desolation and sorrow untold, the work o f women is the exact opposite. It is ... to help, to assuage, to
preserve, to build up the desolate home, to bind up the broken lives, to serve the State by saving life
rather than by destroying it.769
As well as the resounding call for traditional roles, this statement has powerful
overtones of repugnance at the conduct of war, firstly by the extended list of the evils
of war, then by the final comparison of roles. Of course she acknowledges that this
destruction of life is necessary and inevitable, but it is hardly a resounding
endorsement of war, and her depiction of the female role as oppositional to men’s,
rather than complementary, further distances women from it.
The early date of this quote shows how soon this change in attitude happened. During
the first phase of the war, it was portrayed in a very traditional manner. Much of the
atrocity propaganda that circulated in Britain focused on outrages against women,
emphasising the heroic role being undertaken by British soldiers in protecting their
womenfolk from the misfortunes that had befallen the women of Belgium and
Northern France. The suffrage movement almost as one swung behind the line that a
woman’s task was to take up her traditional roles.
7 70
For Kent, this change in view was in many ways based on flawed perceptions of the
suffering that trench warfare was having on the men involved in it. Censorship and
propaganda prevented women from making an accurate judgement on the situation.
769 Kent, “Love and Death", p. 156.
770 Kent, “Love and Death", pp. 156-158.
189
Those women who were able to hold on to pre-war understandings about gender ... were those who had
experienced the war directly, at the front. Most ‘new’ feminists, by contrast saw the war from afar,
from home.771
It does also have to be noted that there was a boost to feminism brought about by the
war work done by women, and the privations they suffered as a consequence of the
fighting. Nina Boyle of the Women’s Freedom League argued, “women’s place by
universal consensus of opinion is no longer the Home. It is the battlefield, the farm,
the factory, the shop.” Rebecca West believed that: “Surely, never before in modem
history can women have lived a life so completely parallel to that of the regular
Army.”772
Nevertheless, for Kent the ultimate legacy of the war in Britain was a shift from
women believing that masculinity/femininity were “the products of laws, attitudes
and institutions” to a belief in a “biologically determined, innate male and female
sexuality.” She quotes Christabel Pankhurst writing in 1924
Some of us hoped [for] more from woman suffrage than is ever going to be accomplished. My own
large anticipations were based upon ignorance (which the late war dispelled) of the magnitude of the
task which we women reformers so confidently wished to undertake when the vote should be ours.773
Of course it cannot be assumed that a similar process occurred in France. Indeed
French feminism had been characterised before the war by the very features that Kent
notes in post-war British feminism. Yet there are echoes in this report made during
the war by the French section o f the CIFPP “Le devoir imperieux des femmes,
aujourd’hui plus que jamais est de denoncer et de combattre cet universal mensonge
[that war is “une des formes possible ou meme necessaires de l’activite humaine”],
par lequel le meurtres des hommes se fait accepter a la pensee des hommes.”774
Jacobzone notes that “Les militaires sont a la fois admires, convoites et redoutes”.775
771 Kent, “Love and Death", p. 155.
772 Kent, “Love and Death", p. 161.
773 Kent, “Love and Death", p. 171.
774 AN F/7/13365.
775 Jacobzone, En Anjou, p. 297.
190
Jo Burr Margadant’s study o f the institutrices of the Third Republic gives an
interesting insight to women, who were unusual amongst the middle class in having
sought paid employment before the war. This independent choice might not
necessarily mark them out as feminists, but it does suggest that they were women
with their own opinions on society. In lieu of the usual dignitaries who came to
address departing pupils, during the war these institutrices had to take over the role of
speaking at graduation ceremonies. In 1915 they delivered a resoundingly traditional
message. Marie Lepine argued “To nurse, to dress wounds, to cure, to conserve, such
is the role of women in peacetime.” This was all the more vital in wartime. The
directrice of the college at Dax stressed how the female war effort paled in
comparison with the men at the front: “boys’ lycees and colleges piously celebrate the
glory of teachers and students who are suffering and dying for the nation ... we feel
profoundly the humbleness o f our contributions.” Looking to the post-war France,
Cecilia Terrene Lafleur declared, “Your brothers will be the poets, the scholars, the
nnc
artists of the new France. You will be the guardians of the foyer...”
However, Margadant argues, by the equivalent ceremonies of 1916, things had
changed dramatically. No longer did the women make apologies for making the
•
• •
speeches themselves, while the messages contained in them were less traditional.
777
Alice Bolleau, the directrice o f the lycee in Niort argued, “Single women do not have
the right to be useless and inactive. The liberal professions, the administration,
commerce, even industry need their intelligence and their activity.” Similarly Mile.
Thomas, a headmistress in St Etienne, believed that
The type of girl, occupied by useless tasks, for whom a bit o f embroidery, an hour o f piano sufficed,
once her studies ended, was already on the wane before the war. All the more reason for her
disappearance today.778
Their students were urged out to work by Mile. Bousquet, who took “the beautiful
motto of our heroic defenders who cry out to one another: ‘We shall go on because
776 Jo Burr Margadant, Madame le Professeur: Women Educators in the Third Republic (New Jersey:
Princeton, 1990) pp. 240-241. It is noticeable that the male roles are distinctly unwarlike.
777 Margadant, Madame le Professeur, p. 242.
778 Margadant, Madame le Professeur, p. 243.
191
we must.’ Let us say, instead, “We shall work because we must.” Margaret Lepine in
Agen admitted that it went against the taste of her students to cultivate the soil and
that the “duty does not seem to befit you, but I tell you that it does because it is going
to be the task o f everyone.” Louise Thuillat Manuel admonished the graduates of
Limoges that “as good French women, you will not have satisfied all your obligations
just because you have fulfilled your family duties.”779
Yet there are clear limits to this change in attitude, graphically illustrated by all the
caveats included in the statements. Bolleau restricted her exhortations to find paid
employment to single women. Bousquet said that women had to work, not that it was
necessarily desirable. Thuillat Manuel believed that family duties naturally came
before anything else. Most of all, for the intelligent, ambitious, middle class graduates
of these schools, being encouraged to till the soil or work in “administration,
commerce or even industry” could hardly have been seen as emancipatory.
For these instutrices traditional roles were still seen as the ideal, but in wartime they
were not sufficient. Nevertheless they appear entirely confident in the ability of their
charges to take on all the extra tasks that war made necessary. In Anjou, Mathilde
Allanic believed that the war had allowed a re-evaluation of French women.
Fran^aise! Pour la majorite des habitants de notre planete, ce vocable equivalait a un synonyme de
ffivolite, d’etourderie, de coquetterie, d’inconscience presque anormale.” However the war had shown
that the French woman had “ses qualites de ferme et lucide raison, d’intelligence initiative, de
perseverance courageuse.
Nevertheless she still saw a traditional role as the ideal. “C’est dans une vie familiale,
tendre et simple, que s’epanouit Fame gracieuse des colombes de France.”
When French women spoke o f feminism, their ideas were traditional. Jeannine, while
arguing in favour of feminism, dismissed the American and English suffragettes “des
viragos moustachues, au regard farouches et decide, qui, tout en copiant le
779 Margadant, Madame le Professeur, p.243, p. 242.
780 Jacobzone, En Anjou, p. 302.
192
disgracieux costume masculin, declaraient une guerre implacable a l’homme.” 781 She
forcefully rejected “scientific proof’ o f women’s inferiority in favour of an argument
of equilibrium in difference, with the woman being “la force plus reposee, moins
brutale, elle est la Vie enfermee dans la courbe adorables des lignes; elle est le rythme
et la musique, la grace indicible, l’epanouissement, le triomphe de la chair baignee
d’ombre et de lumiere.”782 A few months earlier she argued it was necessary for
women to retain their sweetness and mocked “les feministes qui exagerent” who
consider men the enemy and wear masculine clothing. Her tone suggests she is
amused rather than threatened by “Ces cheres combattantes!”783
An exam question for secondary school girls in June 1916 proposed this question on
what feminism was.
Un ecrivain modeme a dit ‘il y a deux sortes de feministes: les vrai amis des femmes, ceux qui veulent
leur donner le beau role dans l’humanite, c’est-a-dire la preponderance par l’intelligence et le cceur; les
faux amis qui desirent en faire des avocats et des deputes’. Vous expliquerez cette reflexion et vous
donnerez votre avis personnel sur cette question.784
The 20 students who took the test all agreed with the writer. They argued that the role
of women was determined by nature and it was to be mothers, to raise children and to
support and encourage their husbands.
70 c
Traditionalist ideas also permeated any discussions of the role of women in society.
When the Petit Marseillais wrote an article advocating giving women the vote, it
printed two letters from female readers in response. The first claimed that the vote
would be an unwelcome distraction from domestic duty. The second disagreed,
claiming that the uniquely feminine characteristics of women would mean that their
vote would have a beneficial effect on the country.786 Laura Downs points out that
“the unpleasant discovery o f the male production worker’s relative and arbitrary
781 La Bataille, 22 August, 1917.
782 La Bataille, 22 August, 1917.
783 La Bataille, 23 March, 1917.
784 Fran^oise Lelievre and Claude Lelievre, Histoire de la scolarisation des filles.
(1991) p. 123.
785 Lelievre, Lelievre, Histoire de la scolarisation des filles, pp. 123-125.
786 Le Petit Marseillais, 20 February, 1917; 1 March, 1917.
Paris: Nathan
193
privilege rarely produced a movement for equal pay.” Instead women merely sought
to work harder.
787
•
When women did demand extra pay it was as substitutes for their
husbands, not as a fair reward for their own labour: “As our husbands are all at the
front, we have a right to the same wages as the men.”788 Jeannine called on her female
readers to become marraines
Pour la marraine, c ’est la joie d’accomplir une belle mission, c’est comprendre son role de femme
pendant la guerre. N ’est-ce pas tres femme de dorloter les peines, d’encourager, de choyer, d’etre
matemelle, de sourire, de se faire gaie afin de chasser les tristes ombres qui dansent leur ronde autour
du poilu.789
Marcelle Capy, writing in the self-proclaimed feminist journal La Vague on the
subject of soldiers returning after the war pointed out the difficulties for women who
lacked a returning husband, but also unquestioningly accepted that those whose
husbands did return would return to the household.
Voici l’hiver. La famille ouvriere a besoin de charbon, de vetements, de lumiere, de nourriture. Si le
mari etait rentre de la guerre, il pourrait aller a I’usine et la femme reste a la maison. Mais le mari est
toujours soldat, et la femme est toujours obligee de conduire la barque.790
Similarly, Jeannine quoted a correspondent who argued that women who became
municipal councillors or entered careers lost their grace and feminine charm. Instead
they should stay at home, seeking to make it comfortable and attractive. She agreed
with him in theory, believing that but for a few exceptions the true vocation of a
woman was to occupy the family home. However the modem world made this often
impossible.791 Again, feminism seems to have entailed simply recognition that the
ideal role for women could not always be achieved.
The prominent feminist Cecile Bmnschwig, speaking at a meeting of the Ligue des
Droits de THomme, argued that the soul of women was incarnated through the
family. “N ’est-ce pas autour d’elle que dans chaque civilisation se groupe la famille?
787 Downs, Manufacturing Inequality, pp. 59-60.
788 Downs, Manufacturing Inequality, p. 142.
789 La Bataille, 3 January, 1917.
790 La Vague, 14 November, 1918.
194
N ’est-ce pas elle dont la longue patience a defendu, au cours des siecles, l’intimite du
foyer, la fragilite de l’enfance, la moralite de la jeunesse?”792 She also joined feminist
colleagues Julie Siegfried and Margueritte de Witt-Schlumberger in helping to found
70^
the natalist group Pour la vie.
When women did act independently, they were at
pains to point out their adherence to traditional norms of feminine modesty and
virtue. The Association frangaise pour la Recherche des Disparus claimed in an
advertising flier that it had “poursuit sans ostentation depuis fevrier 1915 son oeuvre
de secours moral.”794
Jeannine encapsulated the views o f much of French feminism in her article on Le role
social des Femmes. She argued that women had shown their worth during the war,
and could have a very beneficial part to play in public life. “Devenues pour un temps
- ou pour toujours, helas! - chefs de famille [...] leur faculte d’adaptation leur a
permis d’entrer hardiment dans toutes les voies pour lesquelles il semblait qu’elles ne
fussent point faites”. Their contribution to public life would be rooted in their
intrinsically feminine qualities.
Son action peut apporter d’immenses bienfaits dans nos societes imparfaites, car la femme est
l’ennemie de la guerre inique, de toutes les abominations et des injustices qu’elle sent profondement.
Elle lutterait pour la disparition de Palcoolisme et de la tuberculose; elle voudrait des lois plus
equitables et serait une force dans les organisations qui combattent pour les causes vraiment
humaines.795
Working-class women also rarely proved to be radically more feminist than their
male counterparts. At a meeting o f the metal workers union in Bourges in April 1918,
the star speakers were Helene Brion and Madeleine Vemet. According to the Police
report, Brion’s speech, which focused on feminism and on improving the position of
women in society, “fut tres ecoute et souvent applaudi.” However the audience of
roughly 500 people was a largely male one. “Malgre le pressent appel aux ouvrieres
791 La Bataille, 23 March, 1917.
192 La Bataille, 8 January, 1917.
793 Hause, Kenney, Women’s Suffrage and Social Politics p. 195.
794 ANF/23/1.
195 La Bataille, 1 March, 1917.
195
pour assister en grand nombre a cette reunion une quarantaine ne femmes a peine se
trouvaient dans la salle.”796
When female journalists wrote for newspapers they rarely took radical positions and
whatever the newspapers thought o f the potential changes that might be wrought in
women’s place in society during the war, they made little concession to them in their
articles directed at women. In the Petite Gironde, the only feature that was directed at
women was an occasional column, entitled the Carnet de la Femme, that concentrated
on fashion, perfume, beauty and similarly feminine concerns. A typical beginning to a
Carnet article referred to the “multiples travaux que nous executons pour nos
combats: ceintures tricotees, chaussettes, chandails, mitaines, gants, plastrons, etc.”
One article began “On nous reproche parfois, peut-etre - (tout arrive...) - de nos
occuper de toilettes et de beaute a des heures douloureuses.” They rejected this of
course, but devoted that article primarily to boosting marraines organisations.
707
•
This
was the only diversion towards any new developments that might have affected its
readership. La Semaine Feminine in the Petit Parisien followed a similar line.
In an article in La Bataille entitled Pour les Petiots, Jeannine sought to distance her
paper from that of the bourgeoisie, claiming that the Bataille was not a journal of
fashion and that neither she nor her readers cared about what the aristocracy were
wearing. However she thought that mothers might make an exception for their babies.
“Vous avez toutes, j ’en suis sure, la coquetterie de vos enfants, et comme vous avez
raison.”798 Moreover, La Bataille also ran occasional articles by Jehanne la
Chaperonniere, which focused on clothes, and these were the only articles, other than
the ones seeking marraines, which addressed themselves directly to women.
The only exception to this tendency o f articles aimed at women to address them
simply as domesticated housewives was the conservative L ’Ouest- Eclair, in which
Marthe Dupuy offered several articles calling for greater rights for women in
recognition of what they had achieved during the war. However, these articles
stopped appearing after 1916, and the newspaper brought in a regular column entitled
796 AN F/12/8023, 22 April 1918.
191 La Petite Gironde, 1 August, 1916.
196
“Pour les Menageres” which represented its only content written either by, or
explicitly for, women.799
Consistency of Attitudes
From the material given, it would be easy to think that the debate over the behaviour
of women and their place in society was omnipresent in French discourse. Instead, it
was largely peripheral. Newspapers only occasionally dealt with women; the reports
by the regional committees assigned to oversee the administration of the war were
virtually silent on the issue. Paul Cambon barely mentioned women in his wartime
correspondence, except for an occasional comment about the malign influence upon
the Tsar of his wife, which was, he sadly noted, a far from unprecedented state of
affairs.800 As Thebaud notes “[a]fter the arms fell silent, tens of thousands of books
were written in the hope o f understanding the extraordinary events just past. [...] In
all this post-war writing, however, there was little discussion of women.”801 When
journalists did address women it was often as light relief from the serious issues of the
war. In La Petite Gironde, Berthelot noted that proposals to grant female suffrage
included restricting voting to women aged over thirty. “Mais, candidates
parlementaires, il n’y a pas une jeune femme qui, pour la plaisir d’aller faire queue a
la porte de la mairie pendant une heure, consentira a reconnaitre qu’elle a passe la
trentaine!”802 For Jules Veran in L ’Eclair du Midi, women were a regular source of
lighthearted material. When it was announced that no dress would measure more than
four and a half metres he commented
Ne vous effrayez pas, mesdames, on ne songe pas a vous imposer un uniforme national. Vous pourrez
continuer, 1’hiver prochain, a vous habiller comme vous voudrez et ce sera toujours charmant, j ’en suis
sur. Mais... oh! ne tremblez pas! ...803
798 La Bataille, 24 July, 1916.
799 For examples o f Dupuy’s articles, see L ’Ouest-Eclair, 28 April 1916, 5 May, 1916. Pour les
Menageres began on 7 June, 1917.
800 Cambon, Correspondance, p. 158.
801 Thebaud, “The Great War and the Triumph o f Sexual Division” p. 22.
802 La Petite Gironde, 24 January, 1919.
803 L ’Eclair du Midi, 12 September, 1917.
197
When the clocks changed “Nous connaissons deja le mois ou les femmes parlaient le
moins, qui est le mois de fevrier, parce qu’il n’a que 28 jours. Nous saurons
maintenant quel est le jour ou elles auront le plus parle...”804
Zette, writing in Hors d ’oeuvre, commented on a judge who was faced with 55 cases
of defamation or slander, all between women. The judge inquired if the Union Sacree
applied to women. “Et faut-il que les femmes se gourment entre elles pendant que
leurs maris unissent leurs forces contre l’ennemi commun?” Zette argued that the
reason for this was “La femme a des nerfs: en temps de paix, elle passait ses nerfs sur
son mari, et la chose allait rarement devant les tribunaux de repression. Depuis la
guerre, la femme, plus nerveuse et plus justement nerveuse, est obligee de passer ses
nerfs sur ses amies et voisines.” The way to deal with it was to employ the methods of
schoolmasters as if the women were children.805 The ambulancier, Germain Balard,
explained moral dislocation arising from the war as due to women being “portees
naturellement par leurs instincts”.806
Even serious issues like the strikes o f the midinettes and then the couturiers in 1917
were treated as amusing diversions by L ’Eclair du Midi.
8 07
'
L ’Ouest-Eclair headlined
news stories on the strikes alongside little cartoons, presumably to indicate the
essential frivilousness o f the topic.
808
The next occasion that similar cartoons were
featured was the first instalment o f “Pour les Menageres”, a very traditionalist column
offering practical advice to housewives.809 At the front, Kahn shared their casual
attitude, writing
Quant aux manifestations hysteriques des ouvrieres parisiennes, encore une fois, je les considere sans le
moindre importance. Elles s’agitent parce que les printemps les enerve et qu’elles ne trouvent pas assez
d’hommes pour le satisfaire.810
804 L ’Eclair du Midi, 1 October, 1916.
805 L ’CEuvre, 28 June, 1916.
806 quoted in Le Naour, Miseres et tourments, p. 324.
807 L ’Eclair du Midi, 26 May, 1917, 9 June, 1917.
808 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 20 May 1917.
809 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 7 June 1917.
810 Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote, p. 275.
198
The most noticeable constant in these comments is the traditional idea of women that
informs them. The apparent resistance to significant modification of pre-war attitudes
to gender relations appears repeatedly. In the French army, a regimental order of the
day in August 1916 commanded soldiers not to use language that might offend the
sensibilities of women employed by the regiment, while Veran joked about General
Pershing’s admonition to the American troops never to tell anything confidential to a
woman.
on
^
#
t
L ’Eclair du Midi reprinted advice given by the Turin section of the General
Union of Professors on how women should behave during war, claming it was very
wise. This advice was wholly consistent with an eternal idea of womanhood: don’t
gossip, do not be swayed by alarmists, do not overspend, think about loved ones, not
to complain, make yourself useful, admire the soldiers, be patient, and suffer
stoically.812
The irrationality and sentimentality o f women continued to be primary themes when
the actions of females were examined. According to La D epee he, the women who had
been granted the vote in the US prior to the 1916 election were expected to vote for
Wilson because “les femmes inclinant a approuver celui-ci d’avoir evite la guerre aux
Etats-Unis, meme au prix d’humiliations nationales.”
Ferri-Pisani wrote in his book
on the United States how Wilson had “seduced” women into voting for him by “le
romanesque de sa vie privee et son sobriquet de ‘great lover’”.
814
The discussion in
L ’Ouest-Eclair on how the female voters o f Illinois would vote in the 1916 election
was predicated on a belief in the innate pacifism and sentimentality of women.
“Logiquement, les quatre millions de suffrages feminins devraient aller au candidat
socialiste [because he was the pacifist candidate]. Mais il faut compter - et largement
- avec le sentiment.”815 As mentioned earlier, the emotional behaviour of the female
US deputy who voted against the war was remarked upon negatively and indicatively.
In La Depeche, Pierre Mille argued
811 La Petite Gironde, 25 August, 1916, L ’Eclair du Midi, 6 February, 1918.
812 L ’Eclair du Midi, 10 January, 1917.
813 La Depeche, 1 November, 1916.
814 Ferri-Pisani, L ’Interet e t l ’ideal des Etats-Unis, p. 131
815 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 7 November 1916.
199
Cette maniere de raisonner portait surtout sur les femmes - on avait institue des parlottes des femmes.
Quand les femmes se melent de generalises certaines le font avec une angelique et terrible esprit de
simplification. Celles-la sont mal capable d’analyser les mots et voir ce qu’il y a dessous. Elles les
prennent en bloc et logomachisent avec sentiment.816
In his letters home, Andre Kahn pondered on the possible reasons for the conversion
to Catholicism of a woman called Marcelle. “Est-ce le fruit d’un amour malheureux?
Une crise de mysticisme hysterique?”817 That her decision could have been made
through any sort o f rational thinking doesn’t appear to occur to him. Eventually he
finds a satisfactory answer in the malign influence of a priest.818
The conservative L 'Eclair du Midi waged a consistent battle against the popularity of
the cinema during the war, arguing that it could have a corrupting influence on weak
minds. Jules Veran found a perfect illustration of this in a murder carried out by two
young women, aged 16 and 20. Questioned by a psychiatrist “Ses bourreaux en
jupons - la langue fransaise, trop galante n’a pas de feminin pour ce mot...” revealed
that they were “toquees sur lesquelles avaient agi facheusement les films policiers
donnes par les cinemas.”819
In La Petite Gironde, Berthelot responded to a paper offered to l’Academie des
sciences by the prominent work scientist Jules Amar.
La conclusion de M. Amar est logique, les desordres physiologiques et moraux dont la societe portera
un jour le poids viendront de l’utilisation defecteuse des aptitudes chez la femme. II est done necessaire
de classer les femmes d’apres leurs aptitudes physiologiques et psychologiques, et d’ecarter de leur
travail toutes circonstances ou 1’effort et l ’emotion ont chance d’etre frequents.
Berthelot pointed out the difficulty o f removing women from all areas where emotion
and effort are required.820 Amar himself argued that
816 La Depeche, 3 September, 1917.
817 Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote, pp. 108-109 It is not specified who Marcelle is but she
is clearly well known to Kahn and his correspondent, and seems to be a relative.
818 Kahn, Journal de Guerre d ’un Juif Patriote, p. 114.
819 L ’Eclair du Midi, 1 May, 1916.
820 La Petite Gironde, 5 January, 1919.
200
II n’y a pas, entre l’homme et la femme, une difference de degre intellectuel, de puissance cerebrale, de
quantite d ’energie psychique\ c ’est tout simplement une question de qualite'. les modalites du travail
cerebral ne sont pas identiques. Ici, pour la femme, l’ordre sensitif l’emporte; il s’est impose par
l’habitude et 1’heredite. La - pour 1’homme - c’est, au contraire, l’ordre abstrait de la raison et de la
pensee; en vertu de cette abstraction meme, il s’etablit une independance relative des fonctions
motrices a l’egard des actions exterieures, et c’est ce que traduit le mot volonte. [...] Pour en revenir au
cerveau humain, il semble difficile de tirer un enseignement quelconque de son poids, de ses replis, de
son architectonique. L’examen de cet organe n’a permis de rien conclure, non plus, quant a la race; il a
le meme poids moyen chez les Australiens, Indiens, Chinois, Japonais et Malais que chez les
Europeens. Celui des negres est, toutefois, moins massif et moins dense. Mais aucun rapport reel entre
la quantite et la qualite, entre les facteurs mecaniques et les facteurs psychiques. Les races, comme les
individus, comme les deux sexes, ne presentent aucun indice cerebral visible de leur inegalit6
intellectuelle.821
Amar’s argument is very significant. Not only is he restating the conventional idea
that men have the capacity to utilise abstract thought while women rely on an instinct,
but he is giving it the weight o f scientific fact. Moreover, by arguing that the
difference between men and women’s intellect cannot be measured by the quantity of
psychic energy, or by any visible indicator from the brain, Amar effectively renders
his judgement unfalsifiable. If only outward manifestations of intellect can illuminate
questions of intellectual equality or inequality, then it becomes still harder to combat
preconceptions. Amar’s argument also provides another example of the frequent
comparison of relations between the sexes to relations between the races.
Paul Cambon, talking about bombing raids in London, praised French women for
being calmer in a crisis than their English equivalents, but nevertheless noted that
there was a tendency amongst women to become emotional for no good reason. The
usual calmness of English women by contrast was dismissed as intellectual inertia.
II est curieux de constater combien les femmes anglaises sont inferieures aux notres au point de vue de
la resistance morale et du sang-froid. Chez nous on crie pour des riens, mais on se calme quand la
situation devient grave. Ici la silence et la tranquilite ordinaires des femmes ne sont qu’une signe
d’inertie intellectuelle et aussitot le danger declare elles perdent la tete. Nous avons un lot de
821 Jules Amar, Organisation Physiologique du Travail, Paris: Dunod & Pinat (1917) pp. 43-44. Emphasis in the
original.
201
dactylographes fran?aises qui conservent leur bonne humeur pendant la canonnade, et ne
s’embarrassent pas de rentrer chez elles pendant la raid.822
J.H. Rosny offered an equally backhanded compliment when advocating that women
should be allowed into juries and to become magistrates. Rosny looked at Balzac and
other such writers and agreed that women were indeed capricious and irresponsible,
but that men were not doing much o f a job at providing impartial justice either.823
Indeed, praise for women took as conservative a form as did criticism or humour. In
July 1916, Raymond Poincare rendered homage to the women of France:
A vous surtout, Mesdames, j ’adresse les remerciements dmus et respectueux du pays. Vous avez
montre ce qu’il y a chez la femme fran?aise de flamme interieure et d’dlevation morale; vous avez
prouve une fois de plus qu’elle demeure a jamais la sure gardienne de nos traditions et l’inspiratrice des
grandes vertus populaires.824
For Maurice Donnay “Si les hommes sont partis pour combattre l’envahisseur,
aussitot les femmes se mobilisent pour combattre la souffrance, la misere et la
douleur.”
Despite his jokes about women voting, Paul Berthelot actually advocated
female suffrage because
La femme sera la bonne marraine qui apportera dans la lutte avec la misere, avec l’alcoolisme, avec la
tuberculose, le sentiment tres precis des realitds, la connaissance profonde des divers cas et especes, et
aussi cette delicatesse de doigte qui donne la confiance au malheureux et au malade, et en lui rendant
l’espoir assure le succes. [...] La grande famille ffan9aise, tout comme notre foyer, a besoin de
gardiennes ferventes, agiles et clairvoyantes.
Elles sauront faire face a leurs responsabilites nouvelles. Le bulletin de vote, dans leurs petites mains,
ne sera pas un joujou, mais comme dit la bon Coppee, ‘Un outil de travail, une arme de combat’ pour le
bon combat contre toutes les decheances, pour le mieux etre sinon pour le bonheur de tous.826
Camille Mauclair in La Depeche
822 Cambon, Correspondance, pp. 202-3.
823 La Depeche, 20 July, 1917.
824 quoted in Donnay, preface, Mellor, Pages Inedites sur La Femme et la Guerre, p. 15.
825 Donnay, preface, Mellor, Pages Inedites sur La Femme et la Guerre, p. 17.
826 La Petite Gironde, 24 May, 1919.
202
Depuis trois ans et demi. La femme isolee a singulierement progresse et muri. Elle s’est grandie dans
l’estime nationale par la fafon energique et intelligente dont elle a accepte et rempli les taches de
l’homme absent. Cette conduit a plus fait pour la cause du feminisme que vingt ans de revendications
theoriques. L’experience est la. II sembler juste, naturel et utile que la femme conquiere Pelectorat et
bien d’autres privileges sociaux. Mais s ’il y faut applaudir, il n’en faut pas moins craindre que la force
d’une telle evolution detoume de plus en plus la femme de son ancien role, redevenu primordial:
Pamour et la fecondite au foyer.827
Jeannine argued that women should be given the vote because
l’activite qu’elles
sauraient deployer dans les oeuvres sociales et dans la confection de lois justes a
profitable a tous.”828
One excellent source for ideas about female abilities is the collection of depositions
given to an extraparliamentary commission on the organisation of secondary
education for girls that reported in 1918. Nearly 50 oral depositions were given from a
wide variety of sources.829
The commission began from a starting point of rejecting the “radical” idea of giving
girls the same syllabus and same diploma as boys. It argued that such a “complete
assimilation” would be contrary to the law o f 1880. Not only that but it would display
a failure to recognise the real aptitudes of women. Not only would such a move go
against the true interests o f society, it was contrary to nature itself. To push all young
women towards the baccalaureat would be to create a female intellectual
proleteriat.”830
Though most of those invited to give their opinions agreed with this, there were
occasional dissenting voices. Mme. Cruppi, the President of the section lettressciences du Conseil national des femmes fran?aises argued that schools for girls
should offer same qualifications as for boys. M. Brunot, a professor from the
Sorbonne also argued strongly in favour of equal education for both sexes. He argued
827 La Depeche, 17 March, 1918.
828 La Bataille, 10 May, 1917.
829 Rapport de la Commission extraparlementaire chargee d’examiner les modifications a apporter h
1’organisation des etudes et aux sanctions de l’enseignement secondaire public des jeunes filles. (1918)
203
that it was necessary to open to women every career to which they might “legitimately
aspire.” Unlike the vast majority o f participants, Brunot mentioned the war as having
played a part in his thinking arguing that “ce qui n’etait qu’un devoir avant la guerre
pourra devenir une obligation.” However, he is not arguing that the war had opened
his eyes to the qualities o f women, but taking the common line that women’s efforts
during the conflict demanded a reward.831
M. Bernes, a member o f the Conseil superieur de 1’instruction publique, was slightly
more equivocal, arguing in favour o f offering an equivalent programme of studies for
girls as boys in secondary schools, but claiming that he didn’t envisage many girls
taking the baccalaureat.
The majority of the responses emphasised traditional feminine roles though. The
Inspector-General o f Tinstruction publique, M. Cahen, argued that the aim of the
school was to create good republican mothers, evoking the motto of the Ecole de
Sevres: Virgines futuras virorum matres respublica docet.
He argued that a similar
educational workload to boys would be too demanding, intellectually and physically
for women, and that space needed to be reserved for teaching them women’s work.
On n’en doit pas conclure que l’education des jeunes filles doive ressembler tout a fait a celle des
gar90ns. La preparation simultanee de deux ou trois examens, diplome, brevet superieur, baccalaureat,
place les jeunes filles dans des conditions tres facheuses au point de vue de Phygiene intellectuelle et
physique. [...] Une place doit etre reservee aux travaux feminins, en particulier a la couture et a tous les
arts qui s’y rattachent.834
M. Darlu, an inspector general o f public education, also claimed that the two sexes
00 c
had different needs in education, more techinal for boys and more general for girls.
Mile. Milliard, a member of the Conseil superieur de Tinstruction publique argued
that, from the ages of 7 to 11, girls should be taught to develop their moral and social
side, and learn about hygiene and good housekeeping, “c’est a l’age ou la jeune fille
830 Rapport de la Commission
831 Rapport de la Commission
832 Rapport de la Commission
833 Rapport de la Commission
834 Rapport de la Commission
extraparlementaire, June 1917, pp. 2-3
extraparlementaire, February 1917, p. 34, p. 38.
extraparlementaire February 1917, pp. 28-29.
extraparlementaire, January 1917, p. 20.
extraparlementaire January 1917, pp. 20-21.
204
est la plus malleable qu’il faut accentuer le caractere feminin de l’enseignement
qu’elle re9oit.” From 11 onwards, different programmes should be available for girls
who wished to take the baccalaureat in order to enter certain careers, for others who
wanted to work in commerce or industry, while a third programme should be
available for girls who wanted to look after children, the sick and so on.836
One of the members of the commission, Senator Lintilhac, wondered what was wrong
with allowing any girl who was interested to take the baccalaureat as “il y voit
l’avantage de diminuer certains paresses et d’eveiller certains curiosites.” Milliard
responded by arguing that many young girls are badly informed about the possibilities
offered to them by possessing the diploma and “elle craint le snobisme et l’inutilite
social d’efforts qui pourraient etre mieux employes a 1’acquisition d’une culture
differente et tout aussi bonne que celle du baccalaureat.”837
Mme. Suran-Mabire, a lycee professeur in Marseille and also a vice-President of the
Federation nationale des professeurs de lycee et du personnel de l’enseignement
secondaire feminin, suggested a regional dimension by noting that in the small towns
girls were happy with the diploma and fearful of studying Latin and the baccalaureat,
while in Paris and the big cities they demanded the baccalaureat.
Various women working as lycee professeurs were invited to give their opinions, and
they offered a wide range o f opinions. Mile. Couvreur, argued that the majority of the
female population in lycees should not be educated “dans le sens de 1’education
masculine.”, while Mile. Dugard, argued that “II est indispensable de mettre les jeunes
filles en etat d’assurer leur existence et, le cas echeant, celle de leur famille; il faut les
O^Q
preparer aux fonctions que les hommes ne peuvent ou ne veulent plus remplir.”
Mile. Amieux, a lycee directrice, suggested that boys should be taught maths and
physics while “les futures meres aurant plutot besoin des sciences naturelles”, but
835 Rapport de
836 Rapport de
837 Rapport de
838 Rapport de
839 Rapport de
la Commission
la Commission
la Commission
la Commission
la Commission
extraparlementaire, February 1917, p. 49, June 1917, p. 105.
extraparlementaire, February 1917, p. 36
extraparlementaire, February 1917, p. 37
extraparlementaire, June 1917, p. 111.
extraparlementaire, February 1917, p. 48
205
Mile. Picot, a professeur disagreed, claiming that she had enountered plenty of female
pupils who had a taste for maths, which they could do as well as their brothers and
which made them no less charming as wives or excellent as mothers.”840 Despite the
clear differences though, the underlying theme remains that the primary aim of
education for girls should be to prepare them for matrimony and maternity and that if
they were forced to make a living it would only be in work that men no longer were
available for. They also echo the ideas transmitted in the speeches of the institutrices
studied by Margadant, as discussed above.
M. Goy, a senator on the commission offered the most traditional response, arguing
that the exigencies o f war had driven women to take the place of men in many
situations “n’y aura t-elle pas contracte des idees d’independance qui relacheront les
liens de la famille qui lui feront oublier le devoir le plus sacre, celui de la matemite”
This tendency for women to forget their primary function needed to be halted, or else
natality would drop. Additionally, Goy argued women were not of the required
intelligence. They lacked intellectual power, and it was essential not to encumber
France’s faculties with “etudiants mediocres, incapables d’augmenter le patrimoine
041
intellectuel de la nation.”
Despite attitudes like this amongst members of the commission, a proposal to forbid
girls from taking the baccalaureat was generally opposed. “On opposa des raisons de
droit constitutionnel, on invoqua le liberalisme traditionnel de TUniversite et l’utilite
de laisser le choix aux jeunes filles entre un examen con9u pour elles et le
baccalaureat des gar9ons;” Instead, the commission decided that the education given
to girls by the current secondary system was “bonne dans Tensemble”, and that they
842
shoud seek to retain it “dans ses grandes lignes”.
The views of the commission as to educational priorities were shared elsewhere. The
subcommittee of economic action in the Correze also argued that it was necessary to
urgently organise “enseignement menager” in the region.
840 Rapport de la Commission extraparlementaire, June 1917, p. 118, p. 120.
841 Rapport de la Commission extraparlementaire, June 1917, p. 105-106.
206
Ayons moins de femmes savants dont les connaissances sont souvent superflues et efforcons nous de
posseder dans nos jeunes filles des legions de bonnes menageres n’ayant pas peur de la besogne, aptes
a tirer profit pour le mieux de tout ce don’t elles pourront disposer et possedant deja au sortir de l’ecole
beaucoup de notions sur leurs futures devoirs d’epouses et de meres.843
In Michel Chassagny and G. Labarre’s Precis de physique, designed for the secondary
education of girls, they wrote how they had sought to exclude abstract reasoning and
purely mathematical developments. Instead “[n]ous avons constamment donne pour
base aux differentes theories des experiences aussi simples que demonstratives...”844
These educational ideas were not restricted to France’s metropole. Guidelines set out
for the teaching of girls in French Indochina advised that they should have the same
programmes of teaching as the boys, but only half as much time should be allocated to
it, with the other half devoted to domestic education, ‘Tenseignement menager”. In
addition, it was advised that their regular lessons be taught so as to adapt to their
domestic education. Young girls needed to be taught through practical demonstration
o^r
and application what could be taught to boys more theoretically.
It was concluded that it was necessary to teach young girls
Phygiene, la morale et la politesse en insistant suivant Page des eleves sur les devoirs de la fille, de la
sceur ainee, de la femme, de la mere, de la maitresse de maison et en ne negligeant aucune occasion de
redresser les notions grossieres (prejuges ou superstitions) qui obscurcissent si souvent les cerveaux
feminins; 846
It was noted that the principles of morality were not really very different between
young Indochinese girls and their French equivalents. The ultimate aim o f the
education of these girls was to prepare them to become homemakers, and it was
842 Rapport de la Commission extraparlementaire, p. 154, p. 169.
843 AN F/12/8003, 27 January, 1916.
844 Michel Chassagny, G. Labarre; Precis de physique, Paris: Hachette (1914/1919), preface.
845 Directions Pedagogiques pour I’enseignement donne aux jeunes filles indigenes dans les ecoles
regionales de provinces. Saigon: J. Viet (1917) pp. 3-4
846 Directions Pedagogiques, p. 5
207
claimed that their aim was to ensure each one of their students became “une maitresse
i
•
?>847
de
maison.
Advertisements remained particularly traditional,
with
women
depicted
as
housewives, nurses, or consumers of medical products, or else as potential customers
for the latest fashion. Men appeared as tradesmen, professionals or soldiers. One of
many possible examples is a Globeol advert from 1917 where a male patient was
depicted being attended to by a solicitous female nurse, who was supervised by two
male doctors.848 An advert for Pilules Pink asserted that women were “etres faibles”
and often were hiding suffering behind their smile. Their blood was poor and they
risked losing their “charme naturel”. Thus they needed to take the Pilules Pink.849 In
an advert for Malt Kneipp, an alternative to coffee, a couple were receiving
counselling for their relationship. The husband was “colereux, jaloux”, the wife
“nerveuse, emportee”. The counsellor advised them their problems were due to the
coffee, but the characteristics of the spouses were entirely consistent with traditional
stereotypes.
QCf)
An advert for a medical product claimed that, far from living the high
life, “Trop souvent les meres et epouses commetent une erreur en se sacrifiant
Of 1
continuellement pour les autres.”
It was not just commercial imagery: official posters followed a similar line. A poster
advertising a “Joumee du Poilu” in the Val d’Oise in December 1915 depicted a
young boy in military garb and his slightly elder sister dressed as a nurse requesting
money so their father could come home on leave.852
847 Directions Pedagogiques, p. 6, p. 11
848 Lyon Republicain, 6 March, 1917.
849 La Petite Gironde, 8 January, 1916.
850 Lyon Republicain, 20 June, 1917.
851 Le Petit Marseillais, 9 April, 1919.
852 Serge Lesmanne, “L’ecole et la guerre” in Marcel Lachiver (ed.) Contribution a I’histoire di Val
d ’Oise. Aspects de la guerre 1914-1918. Pontoise: Societe Historique de Pontoise (1986) p. 283.
208
Conclusion
In its first issue after the armistice, La Vague featured a large cartoon on its front
page.853 Bright sunshine signified the new dawn, as did the dove with an olive branch.
In the foreground a man destroyed a cannon with his hammer. Behind him a soldier
comforted his wife and daughter. In the background a man ploughed the earth and
factories belched smoke. It was an utterly traditional picture, in which gender roles
were wholly unproblematic. Men worked and protected their families, women looked
after their children. That the avowedly feminist Vague saw this as an ideal post-war
scenario demonstrates the limited nature of the impact the revolutionary behaviour of
women during the war had.
An article entitled La liberation de la femme by Arthur Lauba offers an excellent
illustration and bears quoting at some length. He argued that women had been
oppressed ignominiously, but that when the war called on them to replace men, they
“ont remplace parfaitement les hommes”.
Done, assez d’egoi'sme a fait souffrir la femme, aujourd’hui sa liberation totale est devenue ineluctable;
plus de femmes-servantes, des femmes-soeurs. Si nous voulons vraiment empecher le retour des
abominations actuelles, liberons la glorieuse femme, reine de la matemite, des tutelles odieuses qui trop
longtemps l’asservirent au detriment des interets superieures de la societe.
However, the liberation of women did not involve their having a post-war role similar
to men, despite their ability to replace men.
Aux hommes les labeurs de forces musculaires; a la femme, le labeur sacre de la feconde matemite, de
la vie sacree qui perpetue le genre humain. Si la femme n’est pas a nos cotes avec egalite de droits et de
devoirs, la lutte contre l’alcoolisme, contre le militarisme et toutes les hideuses plaies sociales, sera
vaine. Elle seule, mere sublime, pourra regenerer les hommes, car c’est elle qui peut deposer dans la
coeur de l’enfant les premiers ferments de liberte et d’amour. Aujourd’hui, les tergiversations ne sont
plus de mise, l’heure est aux actes qui, seuls, font poids, la femme doit etre rendue a la liberte. Autant
pour elle que pour nous, la dependance economique doit etre supprimee. Et la femme, rendue a la
plenitude de ses moyens, sera la mere respectee qui, degagee de tous les prejuges imbeciles qui
853 La Vague, 14 November, 1918.
209
entravent l’essor du genre humain, nous donnera des fils auxquels elle apprendra l’amour et inculquera
la haine de tous les tyrans et la revolte contre toutes les oppressions.
Si nous voulons tuer la guerre, liberons definitivement la femme.”854
For Lauba the war had not undermined his belief in the complementary nature of men
and women; it had reinforced it. The liberation that women had earned was the
freedom to exercise their maternal role on a national scale.
As Margaret Darrow has argued, “What women did in the war or what was done to
them by the war was explained - and explained away - as minor adaptations of a
o re
traditional feminine destiny.”
Any changes in women’s behaviour due to the war
were believed to be only temporary, with the expectation that a return to normality in
other aspects of life would see a return to traditional behaviour. For Henri Drouin this
even applied to sexuality when, writing in the 1920s, he excused lesbianism as a
natural response to the absence of men in the aftermath of the war. He explained it as
a transient phenomenon though, and illustrated it with the tale of a young woman who
had taken a female lover. Guilty and anxious, she had consulted a doctor, who
claimed that it was a natural response to her circumstances, and one that would pass.
His conclusion was immediately supported by the woman declaring her love for
him.856
854 La Bataille, 18 September, 1916.
855 Darrow, French Women and the First World War, p. 5.
856 quoted in Hanna, “Natality, Homosexuality, and the Controversy over Corydon” p. 219.
CHAPTER 4 - Gender, Race and Employment
Before the war, a substantial number of women and foreigners had paid employment
in the French economy. Foreign workers were almost exclusively European, and were
largely considered as just a slightly cheaper, slightly inferior, alternative to French
male manual labour. The value of non-white labour was considered negligible, on the
rare occasions that it was considered at all. By contrast, women were extensively
utilised but this employment was restricted to certain sectors, considered suited to
their unique abilities.
The two primary areas of female employment before the war were domestic service
and textile and clothes production. The war saw women having to take on a wide
range of other jobs, often ones that would have been inconceivable for them in
peacetime. In general, women were felt to have dealt adequately with these jobs and
they were often praised for their efforts in keeping the economy going throughout the
war. However, the prevailing ideas of how women could and should be employed
remained strongly in place, despite the challenge created by different female working
practices. These ideas included: a belief that women workers should always be below
male workers in the hierarchy of any place of employment; that women’s skills
largely came naturally to them while men could be trained in a variety of skills; and
that women’s work outside the home was always likely to be better, the closer it came
to replicating the work they did inside the home. When women were considered to
have excelled in any area of employment during the war, then that work would be
defined as one in keeping with traditional female skills. Where this was not possible,
it was usually argued that women had made a brave effort to act as an adequate stop­
gap while men were unavailable, but that in the long-term they would be unable to
carry out work for which they were unsuited and that they would return to their
traditional roles.
Laura Downs’s study of the metallurgy industry is instructive. Comparing the British
and French war experience, she concludes that there was a very similar response. The
war brought about an industrial reorganisation, the development of new techniques,
and changes in the work force; introducing a new, sexual division into the workplace.
211
However, although hierarchies were restructured, tasks were still assigned on the
basis of male/female difference.
II en resulta une inegalite structurale, consideree a la fois comme inevitable et economiquement
rationnelle, inscrite dans le marbre des differences “naturelles” et exprimee dans le langage des
qualifications, desormais sexue.857
In both countries, employers tried to define three areas accessible to women.
Unskilled work, where women worked alongside young boys; semi-skilled work on a
machine or an assembly line, where the majority of work was undertaken by women;
and finally skilled work. The first two were uncontroversial; it was only skilled work
that saw male opposition and “la capacite (et le droit) des femmes a accomplir ce
OfO
travail etait vivement discute.”
The opposition of male workers was only aroused
when employment in relatively highly paid or high status work was at stake. The
debate remained muted by the limited number of skilled female workers around.
The aptitude showed by the female workforce at the repetitive, but often intricate
work of assembly or in the operation of machinery was easily assimilated into
prevailing images of womanhood. In 1918, G. Rageot wrote in La Frangaise dans la
guerre
Les machines qu’elles dirigent travaillent comme celles des hommes, mais d’un rythme plus regulier,
semble-t-il plus continu, a cause de la douceur de leur mouvements et de leur vigilance. II reste de la
menagere dans la toumesse d’obus et les femmes font de la metallurgie comme du tricot.859
There was much wishful thinking in this analogy, but nevertheless it correlates closely
with the divisions made within the factory. During “...la guerre, des ouvriers des deux
sexes etaient parfois retires des postes repetitifs et promus dans Tatelier d’outillage,
pour un travail polyvalent.” After the war the division between repetitive work
(feminine) and multi skilled work (masculine) was affirmed.
857 Laura Lee Downs, ‘“Boys will be Men and Girls will be Boys’: Divisionsexuelle et travail dans la
metallurgie, (France et Angleterre, 1914-1939)” Annales 54-3, May-June,(1999) p. 562.
858 Downs, ‘Boys will be Men and Girls will be Boys’ pp. 570-572.
859 Downs, ‘Boys will be Men and Girls will be Boys’ p. 574.
212
De fait, dans le debat sur les qualifications qui s’installe apres 1916, la distinction entre polyvalence et
savoir-faire repetitif etait devenue un fosse inffanchissable: les qualites ‘intrinseques’ exigees par l’une
sont tenues pour incompatibles avec celles que demande l’autre.860
Downs gives several examples o f how roles in the workforce were assigned on the
basis of perceived gender roles “L’agitation permanente de l’homme - precisement les
qualites qui faisaient de certains hommes de bons mecaniciens qualifies - faisaient
obstacle a la capacite des moins qualifies a executer convenablement les travaux
repetitifs.” Thus employers preferred women for unskilled tasks.861 Pierre Hamp, an
inspecteur de travail believed that the view o f employers could be summed up thus:
Elle verifie bien ce qui a toujours la meme forme, ou il suffit d’une repetition du regard, non d’une
recherche. C’est la maille du crochet et de dentelle. Mais il ne faut pas demander a la femme un
vigilance impromptue; elle parallelise, elle compare, elle n’invente pas.862
A gear making plant in Laon reported on the advantages that they found in employing
women, who were “especially appreciated for their passivity and their dexterity in
executing small motions”. They noted also that when there were pauses in work, it
was not unusual to see the women knitting, demonstrating their continued feminity.863
Employers noted the inability o f women to deal with breakdowns in machinery. In
male unskilled or semi-skilled workers this was simply seen as due to a lack of
practical knowledge. In women it was considered a symptom of feminine
“passivite”.864 Georges Calmes reassured skilled men that
Mechanics who are worthy of the name ... who possess a love o f craft and a taste for finished work
demanding knowledge, intelligence, and some technical capacity - will never see a competitor in the
woman lathe operator. That would be absurd.865
860
861
862
863
864
865
Downs, ‘Boys will be Men and Girls will be
Downs, ‘Boys will be Men and Girls will be
Downs, ‘Boys will be Men and Girls will be
Downs, Manufacturing Inequality, p. 223.
Downs, ‘Boys will be Men and Girls will be
Downs, Manufacturing Inequality, p. 222.
Boys’ p. 582.
Boys’ pp. 576-577.
Boys’ p. 574.
Boys’ p. 576.
213
The similarity o f these judgements to those made in the pre-war period is striking and
testifies to both the continuity and the adaptability of patriarchal discourse towards
working women. In an essay that won a prize from the Academie Fran9aise in 1905,
Le Mensonge du feminisme, Theodore Joran argued “Routine ton nom est femme;
progres, ton sexe est masculin.866 Five years later Emile Faguet asserted that
“L’immense majorite des professions civiles sont des routines que peuvent apprendre
en quelques annees les plus mediocres cerveaux feminins”. However he considered
that women would never have the genius for intellectual activities.867
Some ideological adjustments had to be made. A French adage of the 19th century, “A
l’homme les bois et les metaux, a la femme la famille et les tissus” would have
seemed outdated, and the exigencies of the war did see some blurring of the
ozro
boundaries.
Nevertheless those boundaries were not seriously threatened, and were
reasserted with some ease after the armistice.
A la fin de la guerre, la distinction des types de travail etait devenue une distinction ancree dans les
personnes elles-memes. Les femmes non qualifiees etaient definies comme “des manoeuvres d’une
qualite un peu plus delicate”.869
Employers applied this distinction by giving unskilled women and men completely
different roles in the production process. Downs stresses that this division was not a
calculated plan by employers, but rather an application of their accepted ideas of
870
sexual difference to the transformation o f the technologies of the factory.
This
•
chapter will show that the durability of this thinking was not unique to the
metalworking industry.
Attitudes to foreign labour had some similarities to views of female labour. The level
of skills that foreign workers were believed to have varied depending on where they
were from, with European workers considered to be much more skilled than non­
white workers. What remained constant was that no foreign workers were considered
866 Maugue, L ’ldentite Masculine en crise p. 28.
867 Maugue, L ’ldentite Masculine en crise, p. 71.
868 Downs, ‘Boys will be Men and Girls will be Boys’ p. 573.
869 Downs, ‘Boys will be Men and Girls will be Boys’ p. 577.
870 Downs, ‘Boys will be Men and Girls will be Boys’ p.577, p. 584.
214
to have the technical skill o f French workers. An article in La Bataille Syndicaliste
dismissed Kabyle, Chinese and Annamite labour as “inept and mediocre.”871 The
Alliance National pour VAccroissement de la Population Frangaise was even more
dismissive.
After having been flooded during the war with Kabyle street sweepers, Annamese stokers, Negro
dockers, and Chinese labourers, whom we had to import because it was the best we could get, we were
forced to send the majority o f these worthless immigrants back to their faraway homelands. They were
more disposed to pillage and thievery than serious labour. The re-establishment o f the peace has
permitted us to replace these ‘undesirables’ with our usual immigrants, the Italians and the
Spaniards.872
It was also believed that foreign workers needed to be supervised by, and subservient
to, French employees in order to work effectively.
Unlike women, foreign workers were not believed to be better suited to certain tasks
than male French workers; they were always considered to be a makeshift substitute
for French labour, sometimes competent, sometimes not. While this idea had not
prevented European immigrant labour arriving in France before the war, it had
contributed to the absence o f significant non-white immigration until the war made
recourse to colonial labour essential. The other dominant idea about non-European,
non-white workers was that their morality and standards of behaviour were
dramatically different to the French, and that the workers were not to be trusted not to
terrorise the women and children left defenceless by the departure of men to the front.
It was very difficult for any o f these ideas to be challenged by the immigrant labour
that was brought into France for the duration of the war, as the ideas were so deeply
entrenched. Not only did this make these ideas particularly resilient but they also
informed the ways in which foreign labour was hired and utilised. Employers proved
unwilling to hire foreign, and particularly non-white, labour unless they were given
guarantees that they would be working under tight control and surveillance, so the
workers were given little chance to demonstrate they could work in any other
871 Stovall, “The Color Line Behind The Lines”, p. 749.
872 Revue de 1’ Alliance National pour VAccroissement de la Population Frangaise 134 (1923) quoted
215
conditions. This was particularly true for black Africans, who were considered to be
warriors, not workers. As Michel argues
Pexperience des soldats-travailleurs noirs fut passagere et d’ailleurs limitee. C’etait la en partie une des
consequences des stereotypes qui voulaient les Noirs a la guerre tandis que les Indochinois etaient
juges plus aptes aux travaux d’usine.873
The primary complaints about foreign labour were that it was allowing French men to
be sent to the front, that they brought down wages, and that they corrupted French
women. These factors interlinked with widely held racial stereotypes. Tyler Stovall
argues that the French distinguished sharply between white and non-white foreigners race was as much the issue as nationality.874 Colonial workers, North Africans,
Annamites and particularly the Chinese were criticised for their lenteur, their physical
weakness and sometimes insubordination or dishonesty. After the war, the
government set up an order o f priority for recruitment: Italians, Poles, Czechs and
Slovaks, Portuguese, Spanish, Greeks, Russians, Germans, Austro-Hungarians,
Bulgarians.875 These categories correlate closely individual worth with the war time
roles of their states o f origin. Italy and Portugal had been allies; Czechoslovakia had
demonstrated its preference for the Allied nations against their Austro-Hungarian
rulers. Spain and Greece had been neutral, the Russians had been traitorous. At the
bottom of the pile were France’s foes, though they were evidently still preferable to
non-European labour.
While European workers were not always considered satisfactory, and were certainly
not believed to be as good as French workers, they were still generally considered
preferable to non-European immigrants. When mobilisation came, it forced the
closure of the mines o f Saint-Pierre-Montlimart. This left a number of unemployed
foreigners, whom the mayor wished to repatriate. He decided that the non-white
foreigners should be compelled to leave en-bloc. “J’ai pu decider tous les Marocains a
quitter le pays [...] II ne reste plus que des Italiens et des grecs.”876 It is interesting to
in Camiscioli, “Producing Citizens, Reproducing the ‘French Race’” p. 602.
873 Michel, L ’Appel a L ’Afrique, p. 374.
874 Stovall, “The Color Line Behind The Lines”, p. 740.
875 Schor, L ’Opinion Frangaise et les Etrangers, p. 82.
876 Jacobzone, En Anjou, p. 39.
216
note that the decision was based purely on national origin rather than whichever
individuals had proved to be good workers. In the Deux-Sevres it was noted, in
February 1916, that the war had prevented Belgium, Poland and Italy from providing
their usual flow o f workers to the department, “Les rares envois de Kabyles et
Espagnols, a notre connaissance, n’ont pas donne satisfaction et ne sauraient etre
employes que par equipes dans les grandes fermes. Les refugies beiges, non plus,
n’ont pas donne toute la satisfaction desiree.”877 In this case the report is able to make
a distinction between the Belgian migrant labour which was usually acceptable, and
the work of Belgian refugees, which wasn’t. When Rosny criticised Spanish artisans
for their poor performance in the metalworking industry compared to their French co­
workers, he put it down to their coming from areas with little industrial
0*70
development.
When non-white workers failed to meet expectations there was a
tendency to attribute it to their innate shortcomings.
The Congres de l’Association Nationale d’Expansion economique was made up of a
variety of large businesses and can be considered representative of their views. In its
journal of June 1917, there was a report on foreign workers in France. It advocated
greater control on foreigners entering the country so that undesirables should be
weeded out. This increased control would be sufficient to regulate Italians, Belgians
and Spaniards crossing the border, but for those recruited from overseas “caracterise
par des habitudes sociales tres differentes” there was a need for greater security. It
was necessary for them to have a contract with an employer before they would be
allowed to work in France.
OTQ
The report described succinctly the position of the French business class, reluctant to
hire overseas labour, but compelled to do so, at least in the short term due to labour
shortages.
Nous nous trouvions en presence de deux preoccupations presque contraires: nous savions qu’il etait
indispensable, qu’il serait indispensable, apres la guerre, de faire appel, dans une certaine mesure
impossible a determiner, a la main-d’oeuvre etrangere; nous etions evidemment decides a empecher le
877 AN F/12/8004, February, 1916.
878 La Depeche, 16 September, 1917.
879 AN F/12/8001, June, 1917.
217
plus possible cet appel en employant les machines, comme le disait tout a l’heure M. le President, en
substituant le travail mecanique au travail a la main, mais nous savions que, malgre tous ces efforts, il
serait indispensable de faire appel a la main-d’ceuvre etrangere.
The article admitted that the use o f foreign labour could present a national danger and
argued that it must be done in such a way as not to jeopardise the interests of the
bosses or the workers.880
Statistics
The aggregate number o f immigrant workers employed in France during the war
suggests near-parity between European and non-European labour. 330,000 workers
came from Europe, primarily Spain, along with 300,000 from the rest of the world.881
According to official records this was broken down into 78,556 Algerians; 48,995
Indochinese; 36,941 Chinese; 35,506 Moroccans; 18,249 Tunisians; 4,546 Malagasy.
This totals 222,793, the rest were employed by the French army, already present in
France, or migrated on their own.
As Home’s figures show in Table 1, the use of European labour instead of nonEuropean labour which had been the norm before the war happened again after the
war when sufficient European labour became available. The only progress made by
non-white labour was an increase in the percentage o f North African workers from 1
to 5 percent.883 This was in spite o f the fact that the immediate aftermath of the war
•
• •
saw large scale repatriation o f Algerians, often in very poor conditions.
OO^
According
to the 1921 census, there were 13,000 Chinese; 6,500 Algerians; 4,000 Moroccans;
1,500 Tunisians; 175 Indochinese and 37 Madagascans in France; just over 25,000 in
total, down from around 300,000 during the war.885
880 AN F/12/8001, June, 1917.
881 Stovall, “The Color Line Behind The Lines” p. 741.
882 Stovall, “The Color Line Behind The Lines”, pp. 741-2.
883 Home, “Immigrant Workers in France” p. 60.
884 Massard-Guilbaud, Des Algeriens a Lyon, p. 50.
885 Tyler Stovall, “National Identity and Shifting Imperial Frontiers: Whiteness and the Exclusion of
Colonial Labor After World War I” in Representations 84 (2004) p. 58. Stovall suggests that though
the post-war expulsion o f colonial and Chinese labour may have returned France to a situation that
resembled 1914, the very act o f expulsion established racial whiteness as a key component of French
national identity. Stovall, “National Identity and Shifting Imperial Frontiers” p. 66.
218
Table 1
Nationality of Foreign Workers in France, 1911-1926886
Nation
Italians
Belgians
Spanish
N. Africans
Germans/Austro-Hungarians
Indochinese
Chinese
Greek
Portuguese
Polish
Others
1911 (%)
38
25
9
1
11
-
-
-
-
16
1914-1918 (%)
3
5
35
20
15#
7
6
4
3
?
2
1926 (%)
32
14
13
5
4
-
-
-
2
13
17
The extent to which women increased their share of paid employment also should not
be overstated. The total number o f women employed in commerce and industry did
not return to pre-war levels until 1916 and women never constituted more than 20%
of those working in commerce and industry. At its peak at the end of 1917, levels of
total female employment were 20% above the pre-war mark (40% of the total
employed population as opposed to 32%).
007
t
t
However, there was no lasting increase
in the number of women working. In fact the reverse was true; 1946 proving to be the
only year between 1921 and 1968 when the percentage of women in the workforce
did not fall.888 Women were also still paid substantially less for equal work, though
OOQ
the gap did close during the war.
886 Home, “Immigrant Workers in France” p. 60, *Poland wasn’t an independent nation until after
1918, but Home estimates that immigration to France had already began before the war. # As Prisoners
of War.
887 Thebaud, “The Great War and the Triumph o f Sexual Division” p.30, Bard, Thebaud, “Les effets
antifeministe de la Grande Guerre” p. 150.
888 Thebaud, “The Great War and the Triumph o f Sexual Division” p. 70, Jean-Louis Robert “Women
and Work in France during the First World War,” in Richard Wall and Jay Winter (eds.) The Upheaval
of War: Family, Work and Welfare in Europe, 1914-1918, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
(1988) p. 263.
889 Dubesset et al. “The Female Munition Workers o f the Seine”, p. 191.
219
Some qualification can be added to these figures by examining the work of Steven
Hause and Anne-Marie Sohn. Sohn argues that women working in factories increased
from 1 million in 1906 to 1.22m in 1921 and up to 1.47m in 1926.890 She criticises
historians who claim that female labour declined after the war, asserting that the
“disparity between the historian’s characterization (and even their use of statistics)
and the reality is striking.” Hause’s figures for women in the workforce are expressed
in Tables 2 and 3.891
Table 2
Female participation in the French Workforce, 1906-1926
Year
1906
1911
1921
1926
French Workforce
Total
Women
(millions)
(millions)
20.7
7.7
20.9
7.7
21.7
8.6
21.4
7.8
% of
Total
37.2
36.8
39.6
36.4
Agricultural Workforce
Men
Women
% of
(millions)
(millions)
Total
5.5
3.3
37.5
5.4
37.2
3.2
5.0
4.0
44.4
4.7
3.4
42.0
Industrial Workforce
Men
Women
% of
Total
(millions)
(millions)
34.4
4.0
2.1
4.3
5.0
2.0
2.0
Table 3
Female participation in the French Workforce by percentage, 1906-1926
Year
1906
1911
1921
1926
% of Total
Workforce
34.4
31.7
28.6
% o f Agricultural
Workforce
42.9
41.6
46.5
43.6
% of Industrial
Workforce
27.3
23.3
28.6
These figures show a leap in both the female participation in the workforce as a whole
and in agriculture in particular between 1911 and 1921, both of which dropped back
by 1926. Women’s participation in industry was fairly static in absolute terms, but
890 Sohn, “Between the Wars in France and England” p. 97.
891 Hause, Kenney, Women’s Suffrage and Social Politics p. 106.
220
31.7
28.6
dropped steadily in percentage terms. By 1926 women constituted 28.6% of industrial
workers, compared to 34.4% in 1906.892
Jean-Louis Robert argues that “Within two years of the Armistice, the return of
enlisted men to work brought the proportion of women among the factory back to
roughly the 1914 level.”893 The absolute figures are misleading though, as they imply
that this was the case in all branches o f industry. In reality there were marked
diversities, an examination o f which suggests that the war was less of a turning point.
According to Clemenceau’s secretary, only half a million women entered the
industrial work force during the war. As women working in munitions factories
increased from 15,000 in 1915 to 684,000 in 1917, it can be seen that this represented
a major redistribution o f female employment, rather than a wholesale influx of
women into the industrial workplace.894 Indeed, F. Mathieu, a member of the
Toulouse chamber o f commerce, gave a report on the main d ’oeuvre feminine in which
he complained that the high wages offered in the munitions plant in Toulouse were
leading women to abandon jobs elsewhere in industry “nous pouvons etre assures que
la main d’ceuvre feminine, deja tres rare, va faire totalement defaut a l’industrie, dans
•
un temps tres rapproche.” The chamber unanimously accepted his report.
one
La Bataille took the line that the war had just opened the eyes of the middle classes to
working women, something that was nothing new for the working class. A cartoon
addressed “A ceux qui faisaient les romans mondains” featured a working woman
telling a writer “Tiens! vous delaissez les mondaines et alors vous decouvrez qu’il y a
d’autres femmes interessantes: les ouvrieres.”896 For La Bataille what was new was
the increased possibility o f abuse o f the female workforce.
892 Hause, Kenney, Women’s Suffrage and Social Politics pp. 198-199.
893 Robert “Women and Work in France during the First World War,”, p. 256.
894 Hause, Kenney, Women’s Suffrage and Social Politics p. 199.
895 AN F/12/8004, undated, probably 1916.
896 La Bataille, 3 July, 1916.
221
La femme au magasin, au bureau, a l’atelier, ?a n’est pas la chose nouvelle. Ce qui est nouveau, ce sont
les conditions dans lesquelles l’afflux s’est fait de la main d’ceuvre feminine. Cet afflux a donne lieu a
de nombreux et criants abus qu’il convient de refrener, de supprimer.897
The absolute decline in women working in industry was primarily brought about by
the decline of the “conventional” 19th century female worker in the textile and
clothing trades, which was accelerated by the conflict. Instead women were moving
into the commercial services sector, a trend which began before the war and continued
through it, and afterwards. For instance in banking and insurance in 1906 only 5.5%
of the employees were female, rising to 28% in 1921 and then 31% ten years later.898
The Limits of Change
That the movement o f women into the male world of manufacturing was only seen as
a temporary expedient was made clear by the minister, Louis Loucheur, who on 13
November 1918 congratulated “women working in factories and state-operated
facilities for National Defence”. He told them:
In response to an appeal from the French Republic, you forsook your traditional pursuits in order to
manufacture armaments for the war effort. The victory to which you have contributed so much is now
assured; there is no more need to manufacture explosives. [...] Now you can best serve the country by
returning to your former pursuits, busying yourself with peacetime activities.
899
Employers heeded his words. Between the 1st of November and the 31st of December
1918, Rennes arsenal laid off 4556 people, of whom 96% were women.900 A
syndicalist response was made by Bedel, who sought only for women to be retained in
employment over the winter.
D’apres lui, le Ministre et le Directeur de la Poudrerie n’invitent nullement les ouvrieres a quitter cet
etablissement, ils les exhortent simplement a chercher du travail d’un autre cote et seules doivent partir,
a son avis, celles qui ont atteint ce resultat. [...] Tout doit done etre mis en oeuvre pour procurer du
897 La Bataille, 12 February, 1917.
898 Robert “Women and Work in France during the First World War,”, p. 264.
899 Dubesset et al. “The Female Munition Workers of the Seine”, pp. 207-8.
900 Mougenet, “14-18, Quelles traces de pacifisme dans l’llle-et-Vilaine en guerre.” p. 186.
222
travail a toutes les ouvrieres. [...] II a demand^ ... le maintien des ouvrieres, a leur divers emplois,
jusqu’a la fin Avril, c ’est a dire jusqu’a la fin de la mauvaise saison.901
Moreover, it was clear from Loucheur’s appeal that his remarks had a broader
application than simply the munitions industry. Firstly because the statement was
aimed solely at women, and not at the male workforce for whom there was
presumably no more need to manufacture explosives either; and more significantly
because it called for them to return to their traditional pursuits. It was not envisaged
that they would apply their newly acquired skills anywhere else in the French
manufacturing industry. The comment even denied women the agency involved in
making their own decision to manufacture arms; they had only acted in response to an
appeal from the Republic.
Indeed the use of women as an stopgap workforce itself represented a continuity of
conventional employment practice, before, during and after the war. Women’s work
was nearly always seen as a makeshift substitute for male labour, and women were
usually the first to be fired in any change of economic circumstances.
Of course Loucheur had acknowledged the female contribution to the war effort, and
many other men echoed him. The deputy Magniez declared in 1918
La guerre a mis en pleine lumiere l’immense valeur de la cooperation feminine a la vie nationale! (...)
Les femmes se sont presque toutes mobilisees aux champs, dans les usines, dans les ambulances, dans
les administrations! Elies ont prouve qu’elles pouvaient etre, dans presque tous les domaines nos
precieuses collaboratrices; ne les traitons pas en esclaves!902
Paul Smith notes that a number o f prominent feminists were appointed to key official
bodies in the wake of war,903 while Jo Burr Margadant has argued that the war saw a
sizeable improvement in the status o f institutrices
901 AN F/7/12986/1, 24 November, 1918.
902 Albistur, Armogathe, Histoire du feminisme frangais, p. 381.
903 Smith, Feminism and the Third Republic, p. 13.
223
Not only did women work in organizations with departmental and national affiliations; they assumed a
role as leaders in a national endeavor. In so doing, they gained a qualitatively new and different public
image in their own communities that placed them in the ranks of the notables.904
Given this development, it is important to stress that women were not held to have
shown themselves the equal o f men as workers. To the men in power during and after
the war, women had proven themselves no more than an adequate stopgap in most
areas of employment. In a minority o f jobs they were perceived as having qualities
that made them better employees than men, but these qualities were easily adapted
into the prevailing image o f the woman worker. For this reason the war proved to
have little impact on female status in the workplace. What changes did result in the
pattern of female employment were primarily due to structural changes in the
economy, rather than male attitudes to women’s work.
This may seem surprising given the perception that female working practices had
been completely transformed during the war. Yet this transformation can be
exaggerated. A huge number o f women still worked in traditional areas such as
nursing or charity.905 Even the munitionettes, that hugely popular image, were in a
minority at work. In the arsenal at Rennes in June 1917, nearly two thirds of the
workforce was male.906 In establishments working towards weapons production in
Lyon in 1917, there were 192 factories employing 70716 workers. Of these 54931
(77.68%) were men and only 15785 were women. 48 factories employed no women at
all, and in only 23 were women in a majority.907 Of the 1,580,000 people employed in
the French defence industries nationwide, only 362,879 were women —less than a
quarter.908 In 1916, it was noted that in Central administration “ou les conditions de
travail sont essentiellement favorables a la main-d’oeuvre feminine,” that they only
formed a third of the work force. It was felt that this proportion should rise to at least
half.909 Furthermore, women were not working alongside men as equals; instead the
work could be rigorously segregated. As Downs argues
904 Margadant, Madame le Professeur, p. 238.
905 Thebaud, La femme au temps de la guerre, pp. 83-125.
906 Mougenet, “14-18, Quelles traces de pacifisme dans l’llle-et-Vilaine en guerre.” p. 172.
907 AN F/7/13365, 7 June, 1917.
908 Marc Ferro, The Great War, 1914-1918. New York: Military Heritage Press (1989) p. 170.
909 AN F/12/7999, 17 October, 1916.
224
Employers therefore tried to separate women from men wherever possible, and women sometimes
worked in shops, or areas within a shop, where all the production workers were female. The only men
to be seen were those who set and regulated the machinery, and of course, the foremen and shop chiefs.
In such cases, the “natural” rule o f male over female underwrote the authority structure on the factory
floor,910
In response to a number o f thefts in the Poudrerie at Toulouse, attributed to female
workers, it was decided to appoint some female supervisors to watch over property.
But, so as not to undermine the authority of the bosses, these women were not
allowed to take action themselves, they merely reported to their superiors.911
Similarly, colonial labourers in France had their lives closely regulated by the
Colonial
Labor
Organization
Service,
which
assigned
employers, housing,
transportation, and food in an attempt to replicate the structures of colonial labour on
French soil. In May 1918, colonial workers were put under military discipline.
Op
Often the government’s desire to free French men to go to the front by employing
women or foreigners was hindered by considerable reluctance amongst employers to
hire them. In some industries women were offered work without much hesitation, but
in the munitions industry where the antagonism towards them shown by industrialists
meant they were used as a last resort, the state was forced to intervene to encourage
female work in munitions plants.913 A report in May 1916 on attempts to replace men
with women in war factories noted that significant progress had been made, and
though certain companies in Bordeaux and Toulouse had claimed “II n’y a jamais eu
de femmes, done on ne peut pas en employer”, these objections were overcome
eventually.914 An under secretary in the war ministry, Rene Besnard in January 1917
gave an instruction on the replacement o f secretaries and orderlies eligible for military
service, with women. He directed that this should happen everywhere, with the only
exceptions being
910 Downs, Manufacturing Inequality, p. 57.
911 AN F/7/12986/1, 5 June, 1917.
912 Stovall, “The Color Line Behind The Lines”, p. 744, Home, “Immigrant Workers in France” p. 76.
913 Thebaud, “The Great War and the Triumph o f Sexual Division”, p. 30.
914 La Petite Gironde, 5 May, 1916.
225
secretaires reellement irremplafable en raison de leurs connaissances techniques ou professionnelles
que generalement les femmes ne possedent pas, et non a des secretaires dont le depart n’aurait d’autre
consequence que d’apporter une certaine gene dans le service.
He concluded
Les militaires employes a 1’Administration Centrale seront les premiers a comprendre qu’ils doivent
etre utilises suivant leurs aptitudes et leur etat physique dans les seuls emplois qui ne peuvent etre
confies a des femmes.915
In general, the first preoccupation o f almost everyone concerned with the workforce
was the possibility of utilising underemployed soldiers, or permissionaires. While the
committee in the Rennes region was typical in requesting soldiers and prisoners of
war throughout, the Toulouse suggested soldiers, foreigners (notably Spanish) and
then prisoners. In March 1916, the Ministry of War’s delegate on the economic action
committee of the Limoges region noted that “Le Directeur de la Mayenne me dit que
sur une demande de 2000 hommes faite a l’autorite militaire lundi dernier il n’a pu en
obtenir que 70. Dans la Sarthe c ’est la meme situation.”916 Thus again the two
preferred options for extra labour were the army, and prisoners of war.
The way in which the use o f colonial labour was envisaged differed greatly from that
of French workers. Because colonial labourers were not trusted to work without
supervision or to integrate into local communities; it was felt to be necessary to
employ them in large teams under direct supervision rather than allocating them to
individual farms. For example, it was argued that Algerians had more problems
working in factories in the big cities, compared to departments such as the Aveyron,
Hautes-Alpes, and Basse-Alpes where there were large numbers of homogenous
Algerian communities and less industrialisation.917 The need for large teams was
considered by the Comite consultatif d’action economique in the Rennes region as a
reason for doubting the efficacity o f hiring colonial labour.
915 AN F /l2/7999, January, 1917.
916 AN F /l2/8004, March, 1916.
917 Meynier, L ’A lgerie Revelee, p. 474.
226
La propriete y est tres morcelee et les hommes seraient souvent employes par unite ou par petits
groupes de 2 ou 3 dans les fermes. Dans ces conditions, la difference de mceurs et de langage risque de
constituer un gros obstacle.
It would be necessary to create in each commune, or group of communes a barracks to
house the workers, despatching them daily to the farms. The reference to differences
in “mceurs” indicates the fears the committee had over the threat that colonial workers
presented to the domestic population, particularly the women. During the committees
discussions this was made explicit, and it was claimed that “dans beaucoup d’endroits,
les femmes sont restees seules et n’accepteront pas volontiers la presence chez elles
de travailleurs etrangers.” It was noted that Kabyle workers had been used
successfully in the Eure and Loiret, but that was felt to be due to large farms
employing large teams.918
M. d’Orlye, the Directeur interimaire des services agricole for the Haute Savoie had
similar concerns for his region
Nous avons etabli par l’experience de 1915 que l’equipe travaillant s’ensemble ne donne pas un travail
pratique dans nos proprietes tres morcelees, de superficies restreintes, il a ete reconnu qu’elle rendait
plus de services par travail d’une, deux ou trois unites reparties a tour de role aux exploitations. Le
soldat dont la qualite donne toute securite peut vivre quelques jours a la vie de famille privee de son
chef. En sera-t-il de meme de l’ouvrier kabyle etranger a nos mceurs, a nos usages?
The sub-committee responded that it understood the difficulties, but nevertheless
wanted the director to continue his investigations on the subject.919 His views seemed
to be in tune with the rest o f the department, the impression given in surveys on the
possibility of employing foreign workers was that they were strongly adverse to
employing either colonial or foreign workers.920 The phrases used by d’Orlye also
reveal what was often hidden under euphemisms such as differences in mores or
customs. In the scenario envisaged by d’Orlye, Kabyle workers couldn’t be trusted
918 AN F /l2/8004, 8 February, 1916.
919 AN F/12/8004, 24 February, 1916.
920 AN F/12/8004, 10 February, 1916.
227
not to take advantage o f a household deprived of the head of the family, by sexually
abusing the female(s) o f the house.
These concerns were replicated in Anjou, wherethe prefect wrote in 1916 that it
would be “impossible d’obtenir des femmes demeurees seules dans leurs fermes
qu’elles consentent a introduire chez elle des Annamites ou des Kabyles”. The
Conseil general tried again in April 1917 but “l’enquete effectuee aupres des maires a
abouti a un refus unanime”. Some colonial labour was finally accepted in the summer
of 1918, but it was kept away from the Angevin population.921
There was considerable regional variation between departments as to whether
immigrant labour was desirable. An analysis of the Besan^on region’s workforce on
the subject of colonial and foreign labour noted: “Les populations de nos regions tres
particularistes semblent eprouver quelque mefiance a l’egard de ces etrangers,
ignorant les services qu’ils pourront rendre et redoutant les deboires qu’ils ont
eprouves du cote des refugies et des evacues de la Belgique et du Nord de la
Q99
France.”
The sub-commitee o f the Correze noted tersely that foreign workers were
hardly used in the department and rarely asked for. Two weeks later, the committee
argued “Sans exclure la main d’oeuvre etrangere ou coloniale dont Tappoint peut etre
appreciable dans certaines regions, il serait risque de trop compter sur celle a la suite
des mecomptes de Tan dernier.”923 If the authorities in the Correze rejected foreign
labour, the committee in the Maine-et-Loire didn’t even consider the possibility,
reporting in February 1916 on the lack o f male workers “... il n’y a aucun remede
general a cet etat de chose, si ce n’est d’employer autant que possible la main d’oeuvre
feminine, car les hommes doivent rester a l’armee jusqu’au bout.”924 Around the
same time, the Petite Gironde examined the problems of shortages in the agricultural
workforce. They concluded that soldiers on leave and prisoners of war were not
sufficient, and that what was needed was mutual assistance.925 Two weeks later, the
author followed up with another article responding to numerous suggestions by his
921 Jacobzone, En Anjou, pp. 201-202.
922 AN F/12/8004, undated, probably from early 1916.
923 AN F/12/8004, Correze sub-committee o f economic action report, 13 January, 1916, 27 January,
1916.
924 AN F /l2/8008, February, 1916.
925 La Petite Gironde, 16 January, 1916.
228
readership, once again foreign labour was not mentioned. When one of his colleagues
also addressed the issue a few days later, labour was ignored in favour of advocacy of
greatly increased investment in agricultural machinery.926 M. Martin presented a
report to the Committee for Economic Action for the Marseille region on the
industrial and commercial situation. Following a discussion, the committee made
resolutions calling for “la repartition du ble entre les minoteries, la livraison de
charbons aux usines a gaz, Tenseignement technique des mutiles, 1’interdiction de
sortie des fourrages. II a demande que les pommes de terre ne soient pas taxees.”927
Once again, issues relating to the employment of women and foreigners were not at
the top of the agenda.
By contrast, the Comite Consultatif d’action economique of the Limoges region noted
that ‘Timportation de la main d’oeuvre espagnole soit favorisee en Dordogne” while
in the Toulouse region, a report on foreign labour showed some enthusiasm for
immigrant labour. M. Ducasse asserted that the Spanish main d’oeuvre had been
unfairly denigrated, and that Spanish employees in the Midi, were excellent workers,
if carefully chosen. M. Couzinet agreed, recalling that at the start of the war farmers
in the Aude and the Herault had demanded the immediate return of Spanish workers
that the authorities had repatriated. M. Labie believed that France was becoming a
country of immigration, and thus it was necessary to replicate the immigration
controls of Argentina and Brazil to assure that immigrants are fit and healthy. No one
QOO
spoke against immigrant labour, on the assumption that it came from Spain.
•
Couzinet did also seek other avenues o f immigrant labour. In February 1916, he wrote
to the Ministry of war, in response to a query on foreign labour. He repeated his
compliments for Spanish workers, but also stated that he wished to recruit some
Kabyle workers, and was frustrated by being prevented from doing so by a
government interdiction against Kabyles leaving Africa.929
926 La Petite Gironde, 28 January, 1916; 1 February, 1916.
927 Le Petit Marseillais, 22 March, 1917.
928 AN F/12/8004, Committee o f economic action report, 12th Region, 18 January, 1916. AN
F/12/8004, 24 January, 1916.
929 AN F/12/8004, February, 1916.
229
If the employers in Toulouse were generally positive about immigrant labour, the
local newspaper did not necessarily share their position. In La Depeche, Rosny argued
that there was a certain amount o f animosity to foreigners amongst French workers
and that “[l]es Kabyles sont le plus souvent meprises”. He suggested that they could
be well employed however, if only in work that no Frenchmen wanted to do. “[I]ls
peuvent rendre de serieux services dans les rudes besognes de forge, de chaufferie, de
dechargements d’ordures, dans tout ce que les autres ne veulent pas faire.”930
Immigrant labour from Asia was also hampered by the negative opinion held by the
French towards them. Rosny did argue that “Asiatiques” were adroit, unassuming, and
were quick to learn new jobs. Unfortunately, they were disliked by the local
population, particularly by “the revolutionaries” who suspected them as potential
agents of government subversion. Too often they were the subject of hostile
comments. Due to this Rosny argued that they could only be effective if they were
grouped together.
QO 1
Rosny concluded that
Au, total, et bien entendu avec des tres honorables exceptions, le travail etranger n’est pas
convenablement employe et il est mal accueilli. J’ai entendu plus d’une fois des ouvriers dire ‘Qu’estce que ces gens viennent faire chez nous?’ Ou bien: ‘ils feraient mieux de rester chez eux!’
Rosny claimed regret at having to say these things, but felt he had to. He urged the
French workers to accept the inevitability of having foreign workers helping out (with
rigorous measures taken to ensure that no French worker lost his job to one, of course)
in a time of need.932
By the start of the next year the local Comite Consultatif d’action economique had
modified its thinking somewhat. A report in February 1917 advised that foreign
workers only be able to stay while they had certificate giving proof of employment.
The colonial workforce was dealt with in a separate section, which focused on how
best to use it despite the flaws o f those who constituted it.
930 La Depeche, 16 September, 1917 (emphasis in the original).
931 La Depeche, 16 September, 1917.
932 La Depeche, 16 September, 1917.
230
The Indochinese were not able to offer much to rural work in the departement, largely
because they lacked experience at the types of agriculture used in the region,
particularly given that they were working in teams of 20 or 30. It was suggested that
the Indochinese could be used in the state factories or replace the Reserve de Tarmee
territoriale, who could then work in the fields, a suggestion that was repeated two
months later.933
Often non-European workers were not even considered for employment. A discussion
in the Chamber o f Deputies, in March, 1916, saw Paul Laffont, from the Ariege,
claim “On a essay e la main d’oeuvre espagnole qui a donne des mecomptes et celle
des refugies qui n’etaient pas prepares a cette besogne. La seule main d’oeuvre utile
est la main d’oeuvre militaire qu’il faut mieux reglementer et accorder aux petit
cultivateurs plus rapidement.” No-one disagreed.934 A report by Mathieu declared that
it was impossible to get sufficient industrial labour from Spain, Italy or Switzerland,
giving reasons why in each case. “Nous sommes done obliges de nous suffire et de ne
compter que sur nos seules ressources.”935 In 1916, a report from the Ome suggested
just two remedies to the problem o f diminishing food supplies: supplementing the
insufficient workforce with members o f the military, or else prisoners of war; or better
utilisation of motorised transport to reduce the delays in transportation. To get more
women working or to import foreign labour was not on their agenda.
National/Regional division.
By contrast with the regional committees, at a national level there was a greater
willingness to employ foreigners. The minutes of the meetings of the interministerial
conference on the workforce reveal that they were consistently keen to find new ways
to employ women and foreigners. The lengths to which they were prepared to go are
indicated by one example, that in July 1917 they were investigating the possibility of
•
hiring Italians who were currently unemployed in South America.
937
933 AN F/12/8011, February, 1917 ; AN F/12/8011, 4 April, 1917.
934 La Petite Gironde, 22 March, 1916.
935 AN F/12/8004, Undated, probably from early 1916.
936 AN F/12/8004, Undated, probably from early 1916.
937 AN F/14/11334 Minutes from meeting o f the Conference Interministerielle de la Main d’CEuvre,
231
This is not to say that the members of this conference had a much higher opinion of
the value of colonial labour. In a meeting in May 1917, M. Coste declared that the use
of Algerians in the mines had not been encouraging. M. Weil also noted the lack of
success of this workforce. Henry Berenger, the President of the committee responded
that as the mining had to be done it was necessary to make every effort to accomodate
them. Later in the discussion, the subject o f Annamites working as nurses came up. It
was stated that two Annamite nurses were needed to replace a French one. This
prompted a similar response from a M. Sevin that given the impracticality of
employing a French workforce, then local hospital employers had to make use of
anyone available.938 The committee’s attempts to bolster the workforce with
foreigners was entirely down to a lack o f a feasible alternative.
This willingness of the central authorities to make the best of the difficulties with
colonial labour was not always shared by those who actually had to work with them.
The conference noted that using North African in mines in 1915-1916 had not been
satisfactory due to the unreliablity and incompetence of the workers. They believed
the problem could be resolved if only those who had worked in French mines before
the war were hired, and the state housed them in order to avoid contact with the
locals. These proposals were rebuffed by employers in the mines of the Pas-de-Calais,
primarily because o f their disquiet over the ructions that the employment of North
Africans would cause amongst the local population. The regional miners union also
declared its opposition, on moral and sanitary grounds, claiming that they feared for
working families, missing the head o f the household, living next to North Africans,
and also they were worried about the “contamination possible de la population
locale.”939
In a report accepted by the committee o f economic action in the Cher, M. Amichau
detailed the objections o f workers organisations to inconveniences resulting from the
28 July, 1917.
938 AN F/14/11334 Minutes from meeting o f the Conference Interministerielle de la Main d’CEuvre,
12 May, 1917.
939 AN F/14/11334 Minutes from meeting o f the Conference Interministerielle de la Main d’CEuvre, 7
July, 1917.
232
presence of exotic workers amongst them. “A 1’atelier, au restaurant, en voyage, dans
la rue, parfois dans la maison, nos enfants, nos femmes et nous-memes, seront en
contact avec eux, quelles que soient les mesures prises.” In this description, simply
being forced into contact with non-white workers was enough to arouse disgust.
Amichau did note that the better off classes were more sheltered from this
“promiscuite” and did often benefit from a supplemental workforce that could be
exploited.940
In a discussion on foreign labour in the Nantes region, M. Brichaux, the Mayor of StNazaire complained that 2-300 Moroccans hired by a factory there had abruptly
disappeared, but not before they had caused “grands ennuis dans la ville au point de
vue de l’ordre publique.” Blanchard, manager of the Maison du Marin was also not in
favour of hiring colonial workers, as they might be of dubious morality. Benoit,
President of the Union des Syndicats and also presiding over the session summed up
by saying that he couldn’t pretend to advocate the utilisation of the colonial
workforce, but it was necessary to inform potential employees of the positives and
negatives associated with them.941
Sometimes colonial workers were requested. The Haute-Vienne sub-committee in
1917 asked for a contingent o f Tunisian agricultural workers, considering that this
“experiment” would provide an opportunity for other employers to leam how to
manage this particular workforce. However, this request was rejected by the Ministry
of Colonies and the question was postponed until 1918. A request in 1916 for
Arab/Kabyle workers had also been rejected.942
Elsewhere however, the response was largely negative. In the Nantes region it was
reported that the rural population wouldn’t easily accept foreign workers, including
refugees. The prefect o f the Tam and Garonne claimed to have been informed that
foreign workers wouldn’t be utilisable in his department.943 The committee in the
940 AN F/12/8004, Sub-committee o f economic action report, department of Cher, 29 March, 1916.
941 AN F/l 2/8008, Minutes o f meeting o f the Committee o f Economic Action for the 11th Region, 17
June, 1916.
942 AN F/l 2/8009/A, 25 January, 1918; 17 June, 1916.
943 AN F/12/8004, Committee o f economic action report, 11th region, 16 February, 1916; 17th region,
22 February, 1916.
233
Cher decided not to call on a foreign workforce except as a last resort.944
A report from the Tours region in February 1916 detailed in Table 4 reveals the extent
to which there was a reluctance to employ foreigners there, detailing the number of
agricultural workers that it was believed were required, and the number of foreign or
colonial workers that would be accepted.
Table 4
Requests for Foreign Agricultural Workers, 9th Economic Region, 1916.945
Department
Indre-et-Loire
Maine-et-Loire
Vienne
Indre
Deux-Sevres
Agricultural Workers Required
2,500 peak, 1,000 off-peak
1,500, plus 400 extra in March
4,000 March to November
5-600
300
Foreigners Requested
0
0
300 Arabs
0
0
The same report also noted that commerce in the region was equally indisposed
towards employing imported workers.
Even where these committees were more positive about employing foreigners, they
did so with serious reservations. The consultative committee for the Montpellier
region realised that a contribution could be made by foreign workers, but they thought
it was essential that colonial workers be subject to a careful experimental study to
determine what measures were required to safeguard the tranquility and customs of
the community, their families and public health.946 Even a very positive report from
the Orleans region about Kabyle labour in the Loiret, stating they had largely given
satisfaction, that they were courageous, sober and very peacable qualified this in the
next sentence by claiming they had a productivity of approximately 3A of the average
worker.947
The regions near the borders did tend to be rather more accepting of immigrant
944 AN F/12/8004, Cher Sub-committee o f economic action, 2 February, 1916.
945 AN F/12/8004, Committee o f economic action report, 9th region, 12 February, 1916.
946 AN F/12/8004, 9 February, 1916.
234
workers, perhaps because they had a tradition of employing them. According to the
interministerial conference on the workforce, the 8000 foreigners in the French mines
were largely made up o f Belgians in the North, Spanish around Toulouse and Italians
in Marseille and Grenoble.948 This can be illustrated with this table of coal mining
regions employing over 2000 employees, which shows that the border areas, and
particularly the ones in the South, had a much higher proportion of foreigners working
there. It’s also interesting to note that women were classified together with the
children.
Table 5
Foreign and Women workers in the French mines, 1917.949
Calais
Boulogne
Chalon sur Saone
Clermont
Grenoble
Marseille
St Etienne
Toulouse
Workers
14950
45741
12985
9772
2272
2523
16354
13160
Foreigners
801
1153
169
222
313
792
1755
1852
%
5.35
2.52
1.30
2.27
13.78
31.39
10.73
14.07
Women/Children
2482
8610
1685
1106
239
448
2075
2245
%
16.60
18.82
12.98
11.31
10.52
17.76
12.69
17.06
When discussing potential immigrants, those in the border regions naturally leaned
towards those they had prewar experience of. So Morel, vice-president of the Lyon
Chamber of Commerce, urged that, for the duration of France’s period of dearth in
workers, they should call upon the assistance of the Swiss and the Italians.950
Similarly, as noted earlier, in the Dordogne and Haute-Garonne they favoured
Spanish immigrants.
Chinese workers in the maritime ports
Official documentation on the Chinese workers hired for the ports in North-Western
France, illustrates the way in which foreign workers could be employed. It displays
947 AN F/12/8004, 26 February, 1916.
948 AN F/14/11334, 7 July, 1917.
949 AN F/14/11334, Undated, but probably from early 1917.
950 Chambre de Commerce de Lyon, L 'Apres-Guerre, p. 12.
235
the deep shortages o f manpower that were afflicting the ports, and the willingness of
the central authorities to remedy that through use of non-European workers, often
despite considerable resistance from local authorities, employers and workers.
The state sought to ensure that they were not mistreated either by their employers or
by French workers by requiring employers to meet certain conditions. One of these
was “They must be treated with benevolence, and care must be taken that they are not
subject to any bullying from the other workers.” The government also sought to
ensure that Chinese workers were given the same holidays as French workers, and
were not made to work proportionately more night shifts.951
When Nantes was requesting Chinese workers for its port, Chargueraud, the Chef du
Service Central d’Exploitation des Ports Maritimes wrote them a letter describing the
conditions for employing “exotique” labourers. He concluded “J’attache la plus
grande importance a faire assurer Temploi de ces travailleurs exotiques dans de
bonnes conditions en raison de developpement qu’est appelee a prendre Tutilisation
Q C 'y
de cette main d’oeuvre dans les ports.”
A month later, Chargueraud again urged
employers to show good will towards the Chinese in case a post-war manpower crisis
required the conservation o f them for a while after the peace.953
Given the exotic nature o f the Chinese contingents, the government also found it
necessary to offer instructions to employers on how best to utilise the Chinese
workers. It sought to encourage employers as to the varied qualities of the Northern
Chinese, describing them as supple, intelligent, patient, meticulous, adroit and hardy.
It was also argued that they could adapt comfortably to the French climate, a frequent
doubt raised about non-European workers. The instructions also offered a variety of
warnings as to potential problems. They declared that the Chinese had a lot of pride
and self-esteem, and thus employers were advised not to humiliate them in front of
their comrades. They also argued that Asiatics in general, and the Chinese in
particular, were not believed to have the French sense of exactitude. Furthermore, the
Chinese had to be segregated from the Indochinese due to “well-known” antipathy
951 AN F/14/11331 15 September, 1916.
952 AN F/14/11331 17 August, 1917.
236
between their races.954 Later on, the authorities were forced to instruct the ports to
keep Northern and Southern Chinese apart in order to avoid incidents which, it was
argued were common between those o f different origins.955
Initially there was great demand for Chinese labour because of undermanning in the
dockyards. At the same time as Saint-Nazaire requested its first contingent of Chinese
workers, Nantes was seeking to increase the number of Chinese working there, by
another 50.956 At Cherbourg in December 1917 non-specialised civil workers were
non-existent, and prisoners o f war were insufficient, so an offer of Chinese workers
was accepted enthusiastically. The central authorities believed Cherbourg was a
propitous location for the Chinese as the absence of civil dockers would avoid
conflict.957
As the reference to the potential conflict with civil dockers implies, this welcome was
not always unqualified. While in the Charente-Inferieure new workers were
welcomed by Meunier, the Chief Engineer, he expressed some caution on behalf of
employers as to how the proposed Chinese/Siamese workforce should be employed.
He claimed that “the entrepreneurs, after the unfortunate experiences that they had in
1915 with the Kabyles, refuse to take charge of individual workers. They demand that
Qro
they are utilised like prisoners of war.”
The request for additional workers in Nantes suggested that it had, initially at least
managed the successful employment of the Chinese, but this was not replicated in
Saint-Nazaire though and in February 1918 the engineer in charge of the maritime
ports, de Joly, sent a request that the Chinese workers there be transferred to Nantes.
The immediate reason for de Joly’s request was that the Chinese were refusing to
unload coal, on the grounds that they had been engaged as unskilled labour not as
953 AN F/14/11331, 14 October, 1917.
954 AN F/14/11331, 26 September, 1916.
955 AN F/14/11331, 11 August, 1917, The need to avoid putting Northern and Southern Chinese
workers in the same establishment was also noted in the Minutes from meeting of the Conference
Interministerielle de la Main d’CEuvre, 13 January, 1917.
956 AN F/14/11331 15 December, 1917.
957 AN F/14/11331, 19 December, 1917; 31 December, 1917
958 AN F/14/11331 4 September, 1917.
237
dockers.959 A letter from the Association des Employeurs de Main d’CEuvre du Port de
Saint-Nazaire had stated that in their opinion the Chinese workers did not have
sufficient experience to work unloading ships and particularly not in the unloading of
coal.960 Despite their ineffectiveness at working with coal, the authorities at SaintNazaire did note some postive attributes amongst the Chinese, “ils portent par
example avec adresse des marines sur la tete et par un systeme de va et vient judicieux
arrivent, grace a leur celerite dans les movements et a leur rapidite d’allure, a faire du
bon travail de portage.”
Nevertheless, employers regularly complained about the cost of the Chinese relative
to their productivity, and the Saint-Nazaire port authorities wanted all Chinese
workers to leave the port.961 Their argument was summed up by de Joly, who claimed
that despite every attempt to utilise them, they had never managed anything more that
insignificant output as well as an overt unwillingness to work with coal. De Joly
suggested that they would be better employed at Nantes, where the greater range of
work meant that the Chinese could be utilised in tasks more suited to their aptitudes.
He also said that it was essential to reinforce “le cadre blanc” in Nantes with two
supervisors and a (male) nurse. While de Joly didn’t specify why these reinforcements
were necessary, it can be speculated that it may have been to counter an unwillingness
to work amongst the Chinese.962
Kauffman, the Chef d’Exploitation at the Nantes port was asked if they wanted the
return of the Chinese workers from St-Nazaire. He noted that the authorities in Nantes
shared some of the views expressed in St-Nazaire. “La repulsion naturelle des chinois
pour tout ce qui est manutention mecanique a ete reconnue a Nantes comme a SaintNazaire.” Nevertheless, Kauffman wasn’t opposed to their return as it would mean he
could dispense with the services of Moroccan workers who had been utterly
unsatisfactory and so de Joly’s request was carried out.
OAT
959 AN F/14/11331 20 January, 1918.
960 AN F/14/11331 29 January, 1918.
961 AN F/14/11331, 1 February, 1918.
962 AN F/14/11331 15 February, 1918.
963 AN F/14/11331,7 February, 1918.
238
6 months later, Kauffman was bemoaning the performance of the Chinese in Nantes,
pointing out although the authorities tried to keep them in employment by giving
them priority, they couldn’t persuade employers to hire them for certain tasks working with coal, steel or heavy loads. Kauffman sought to dismiss 10% of the
workforce as totally useless.964
These complaints display several common criticisms of foreign workers: that they
often lacked motivation; that they were unable to undertake certain tasks; they
required white supervision to work effectively and that these faults derived from their
race. This last point was considered crucial when camps were being designed to house
prospective Chinese workers in 1917 where it was argued that their location must be
chosen in a way that makes surveillance easy. In particular, they needed to be kept
apart from the prisoner of war camps, in order to avoid any communication between
the Germans and the Chinese.965
This was not to prevent the captured enemy being a bad influence, but the reverse, as
the boss of Genie, M. Cadier, made clear in a letter of complaint to the authorities.
Cadier’s letter also made similar criticisms to those of de Joly about the poor
production achieved by the Chinese, as well as the need for surveillance and
discipline to combat their laziness.
Vous avez mis 60 chinois a la disposition pour les travaux de terrassement du Camp des Travailleurs de
l’ouvrage des Federes.
Ces chinois montrent une paresse excessive au travail et comme il est impossible aux Surveillante du
Genie de se faire comprendre, et que ce surveillant n’a d’autre part aucune action disciplinaire sur ces
travailleurs, il en resulte que le rendement foumi est derisoire.
Je viens vous demander, en consequence, de bien vouloir mettre a ma disposition, si possible, un
surveillant interprete ayant un pouvoir disciplinaire effectif sur les chinois.
Faute de ce surveillant, je serais oblige de ne plus utiliser les travailleurs chinois, etant donne le tres
faible rendement de leur travail et le mauvais exemple qu’ils donnent aux prisonniers employes sur le
964 AN F/14/11331, 2 August, 1918.
965 AN F/14/11331 18 July, 1917.
239
meme chanter.966
Another port that expressed grave dissatisfaction with its Chinese workers was Rouen.
Again, a primary objection was the belief amongst employers that they were
incapable of working with coal. It was also alleged that the Chinese hid their laziness
behind their inability to speak French. Relations with the local community were also
poor, and as early as October 1917, the authorities in Rouen placed a guard over the
Chinese during meals to prevent them from going into town. By September, the
hostility was such that a proposal to build a shelter to protect the Chinese camp in the
town from German arial bombardment was rejected on the grounds that it would
provoke a public outcry.
Q f\l
In general, it was felt that the Chinese workers in Rouen had caused innumerable
problems due to their low productivity. There had been a minimum of 2 letters a day
complaining about that. The authorities argued that they had tried all sorts of means to
counter this; they had improved their food and lodgings, provided umbrellas. They
had even set up a school to educate 20 Chinese to speak French produced little result,
with only 2 displaying both goodwill and aptitude. There was an underlying hostility
between the French employers and workers and the Chinese, which had manifested
itself more than once.968
The chief engineer at the port, Detoeuf, believed that the reasons for this hostility
were firstly that the Chinese had little aptitude for heavy work and little taste for
outdoor work; secondly that there were limited sanctions available to employers to
force the Chinese to work and thirdly the poor relations between the Chinese,
confined in their camp, and isloated from the French workers who considered the
Chinese “comme une sorte de sauvage.” As the Chinese couldn’t be kept totally
isolated from the French - because they needed to work with specialist workers Detoeuf argued that it was essential that hostility between them had to be reduced. He
believed this was unlikely and suggested the withdrawal of the current Chinese
workforce in its entirety, leaving only the supervisors and interpreters to work with
966 AN F/14/11331 25 April, 1918.
967 AN F/14/11331, 11 October, 1917, 10 October, 1917, 18 September, 1918.
240
their replacements.969
Further grave incidents between the civil and Chinese workforce over the next months
saw another request for the entire contingent to be removed, though the manpower
crisis was such that a new contingent was requested.970
In order to try and encourage local employers to utilise the Chinese, the Office
National de la Navigation sought to reduce taxes on employers in Rouen who hired
Chinese.971 This proved unsuccessful, as an examination of the correspondence
between the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and the Chef du Service des
Travailleurs Coloniaux shows. The Ministry proposed reducing in half the Chinese
contingent, excluding those “least apt at working”. This suggestion was rejected as
unfair on whoever would have to take on those 500, inept, indisciplined workers. The
Ministry responded by acknowledging the difficulties in finding alternative
employment for “les incapables ou les fortes tetes”, but nevertheless insisted it was
vital that the were eliminated from Rouen.
079
In December, the port authorities argued
it was still more important to remove the 500 Chinese as more and more port
operatives refused to employ Chinese at all.
L’Intendance Transit, refuse de les employer dans les magasins de las station [...] La Compagne de
Transit Jules ROY, renvoie au camp systematiquement les corvees qui lui sont attributes [...] Les
Affreteurs Reunis, les Docks de ROUEN ont toujours refuse la main d’ceuvre chinoise. La Maison
HAREL & CAPELLE n’accepte d’en employer que tres rarement; depuis l’echaufforee de Fevrier
dernier ou son Chef de manutention faillit etre victime de la fureur des celestes.973
That the problems with Chinese workers included violence as well as low productivity
was also noted in a report by Hupner, one of the engineers at the port. After
mentioning the derisory productivity of the Chinese and the hostility they aroused
amongst the civil workforce, he claimed that a murder committed by Chinese from an
968 AN F/14/11331, 25 January, 1918.
969 AN F/14/11331, 25 January, 1918.
970 AN F/14/11331, 23 March, 1918.
971 AN F/14/11331, 20 April, 1918.
972 AN F/14/11331, 10 November, 13 November, 22 November, 1918.
973 AN F/14/11331, 10 December, 1918. The rather poetic description o f the assault by the Chinese:
“la fureur des celestes” nonetheless emphasises their exoticism.
241
English camp had caused the local press to comment on “the disquiet of the
population about contact with exotic workers”. He argued that all these factors made
it very difficult to administer the port, and argued that unless the very worst offenders
were immediately withdrawn, it would soon become impossible for any Chinese
workforce to operate in Rouen, even a hand-picked one.974
These complaints were replicated across the country. In Cherbourg, they censured the
Chinese for their lack of productivity, their attitude, their lack of zeal, patience and
their heavy-handedness, while some port operators there displayed a “repugnance
invincible” towards the Chinese workforce.
Q7S
At Le Havre, the Societe en participation des travaux du Port du Havre, bemoaned
that
Nous ne pouvons employer des Chinois pour ces travaux de reglements et d’empierrement, ces ouvriers
sont trop faibles et inaptes a ce travail pour lequel il faut des hommes robustes et travailleurs; nous
avons pu nous en rendre compte apres des essais infructeux avec nos travailleurs Chinois.976
Authorities noted that there had been some regrettable incidents in the Besan9on
region where soldiers on leave had been incited by sections of the civil population to
shoot at Chinese workers.977
There was less and less demand for new contingents, the chief engineer for the
Finistere ports reported that it was the opinion of the authorities there that employing
Chinese workers would do little to help them and that they’d struggle to find any
employers willing to utilise them.978 Chargueraud wrote in a letter that it was
sometimes impossible to allocate groups of less than 100 Chinese.979
The complaints about the Chinese made regular reference to violence between them
974 AN F/14/11331, 11 December, 1918.
975 AN F/14/11331, 24 June, 1918; 9 September, 1918.
976 AN F/14/11331, 22 August, 1918.
977 AN F/14/11331, 1 March, 1918.
978 AN F/14/11331, 3 September, 1918.
979 AN F/14/11331, 11 September, 1917.
242
and the French. Sometimes there were more detailed accounts of the fights, which
offer some insight to the roots of the hostility. One such report was by Clavel, the
chief engineer for the Gironde ports. A soldier named Gezequel made a comment to a
Chinese worker who responded with a punch. Gezequel complained, and the
imprisonment of the Chinaman was ordered. He objected loudly, and was supported
by his comrades, who were armed with batons. Clavel noted that the North Chinese,
all former soldiers and thus “relatively disciplined” always maintained a cohesive
unity. After several warnings through an interpreter, calm was restored and the
offending Chinaman was taken to prison and his transfer to Marseille requested. No
further repurcussions had resulted or were expected.980
A more serious incident ocurred in Rouen in January 1918. A report was made by
Lieutenant Tourret, who alleged the responsibility lay with the Chinese. According to
the Tourret report, a Chinese worker wanted to sleep during work, four soldiers there
tried to force him back to his work. One soldier jostled him, to which the Chinaman
responded by kicking him in the thigh. The othe soldiers hastened to defend their
comrade, while two Chinese came to aid their compatriot. One of the soldiers fled and
was unsuccessfully pursued. Then the Chinaman who had initially been involved
returned and attacked another soldier, hitherto univolved. This soldier and a foreman
who sought to help him were forced to take refuge with the customs police. However,
the situation continued to escalate, with around 20 Chinese now armed themselves
with batons and iron bars. The civil populace did the same to defend the soldier and
foreman. In an attempt to control the situation, the customs police fired a couple of
revolver shots at the crowd. By now the Chinese contingent had grown to 70 people
and they launched an assault on the police station, breaking the windows, capturing
the soldier and threatening to throw him into the Seine. The Naval police intervened,
saving the soldier and using guns and bayonets to disperse the rioters who took refuge
in their camp. There were no fatalities, but both sides sustained some injuries.
During his inquiry, Tourret reported that he had encountered a hostile attitude from
the civil population who disliked not just the Chinese workers, but even their
European supervisors, to the extent that he himself had been insulted by a civilian
980 AN F/14/11331, 11 January, 1918.
243
who argued that those who commanded Chinese workers were no better than them.981
Commenting on the situation, Detoeuf noted that the next day the Chinese refused to
work, claiming that they were afraid of their French colleagues. Simultaneously
several employers reported that their workers, concerned for their safety, were
refusing to work with or near the Chinese. It was suggested the employers were doing
nothing to counter this mood as they saw an opportunity to remove the Chinese
workforce and replace it with an alternative one.
Not everyone blamed the Chinese for the difficulties that arose, with regional and
national authorities being more inclined to share the blame than the adminsitrators and
employers of the ports. The controleur regional des Travailleurs Coloniaux de la
11 erne Region, Grenes, blamed animosity from dockers, and unwillingness by the
employers to pay more than five-eighths of the wage going to French workers.
Reporting on the situation in the port of Brest, M. Grenes suggested that:
1) II regne une certaine animosite contre les travailleurs coloniaux [Chinese] parmi le personnel
employe au dechargement ou au chargement des navires au Port de Commerce.
2) II resulte de la correspondance du Capitaine Chef du groupment chinois, qu’il n’a pas ete possible
d’etablir dans toutes les conditions desirables voulues, un essai de travail au tonnage en vue d’obtenir
un meilleur rendement des chinois.
3) Malgre les % formels de Monsieur le Ministre de la Guerre les travailleurs coloniaux ne jouissent
pas de la meme solde a beaucoup pres, que les ouvriers ffan?ais de meme categorie employes sur les
memes chantiers.984
When Rouen demanded the removal of 210 Chinese workers their request was
granted, but the Service de F Organisation des travailleurs coloniaux en France
commented that if the Chinese workers hadn’t given satisfaction, that was largely due
to the hostility of dockers and employers who had treated them roughly.985
981 AN F/14/11331, 21 January, 1918.
982 AN F/14/11331, 21 January, 1918.
983 AN F/14/11331 27 February, 1918.
984 AN F/14/11331 16 February, 1918.
985 AN F/14/11331,24 April, 1919.
244
By contrast, the Chef du Transport Maritime, Dupuy, as quoted in the introduction
blamed the workers; who were not just untrained and lacking enough interpreters but
also had more fundamental defects. Dupuy suggested that the Chinese should only be
used for light and repetetive work. Most of them weren’t strong enough for the heavy
work required in the ports and they’d be better employed in the factories where the
g o /:
work was always the same and surveillance was easy.
The Gironde ports also saw a dispute between central and local authorities. When the
ports were criticised by the state for the standard of the accomodation they offered to
the Chinese, the ports administrator, Clavel, responded by criticising their indiscipline
and their weak productivity. Given this information, the War ministry recommended
that the employment of the Chinese be transferred to the Service de TOrganisation des
0 0 7
travailleurs coloniaux en France.
Despite these problems, Chinese workers continued to be utilised in the French ports
for the duration of the war, testifying to the shortages of workers that existed. Even as
late as October 1918, the Port de la Pallice envisaged constructing a camp for Chinese
workers that would initially house 500 men, but with the potential to increase capacity
QOO
to 800.
This did not mean thta the workforce was welcome though, and as soon as
the war finished the various ports made clear their resistance to further employment of
non-white labour.
A letter from the President of the Association des Employeurs de Main d’CEuvre dans
les Ports de France to the Minister of Public Works and Transport declared that the
“unanimous” opinion of the employers was that they had little desire to maintain an
Asiatic workforce in France. “Son manque de resistance, sa paresse et sa
inexactitude” were the major factors in a poor rate of productivity. By contrast,
Kabyles and Moroccans had been appreciated in several ports, but even then, there
986 AN F/14/11331, 11 April, 1918.
987 AN F/14/11331, 18 July, 1918; 24 July, 1918.
988 AN F/14/11331 3 October, 1918.
245
were “grave misgivings” about employing significant numbers of these workers
without a process of state selection.989
An assessment of the relative worth of Chinese workers compared to other foreign
workers employed in the maritime ports is possible as on the 30th of November 1918,
the Chef du Services Central d’Exploitation des Ports Maritimes asked the various
ports to compare the productivity o f various foreigners.
At Calais, the chief o f production, Rigal argued that the individual value of Algerians
and Indochinese was for all work clearly inferior to that of the French, though it was
heavily dependent on the skills o f foremen and team leaders. Their productivity was
clearly better when they were used in commercial warehouses than when working for
the state. On average, Rigal believed that 3 Arabs did the work of 2 Frenchmen.990 At
the port of St Louis du Rhone they considered the Italians work to be almost as good
as the French, while the Kabyles were worth 80% and the Chinese 50-60% of native
workers.991
In Brest, they declared they had never wanted to employ Algerians who couldn’t deal
with heavy loads and had low productivity. They believed that it took 2-3 Algerians to
do the work of a Frenchman. However, in the munitions factories had performed
better thanks to their “suppleness”. The Chinese were believed to be capable of
regular, if not heavy work.992 In the ports o f Loiret and the Morbihan, they preferred
Chinese and Madagascan labour to Kabyle and Indochinese. They didn’t compare
either to French workers.993
In St-Nazaire, Kabyles used by private industry had given good results, while as
attested to above the performance o f the Chinese was held to be deplorable. They
argued that they had not employed enough foreigners for useful evaluation 994 By
contrast, in Cherbourg the Chinese were held to be better than the Kabyles as long as
989 AN F/14/11337
990 AN F/14/11337
991 AN F/14/11337
992 AN F/14/11337
993 AN F/14/11337
994 AN F/14/11337
17 January, 1919.
22 December, 1918.
28 December, 1918.
22 December, 1918.
9 December, 1918.
14 December, 1918.
246
they were not badly supervised, but still only offered 45% of the value of a domestic
worker, while prisoners of war were worth 75%. In Rouen too, prisoners of war were
felt to offer 75% o f the worth o f French labour, while the Chinese were worth only
half.995 For the Cherbourg authorities the problems with foreign workers were mainly
ascribed to climate, and they recommended that workers be hired from Northern
Spain where they’d be used to the conditions. Colonial and Chinese workers could be
sent to the South o f France.
In Rochefort & Tonnay-Charente they were not keen on employing foreigners after an
unsuccessful attempt to utilise Spaniards (who had left in search of better pay) and
only one factory in Rochefort had employed colonial workers, these were Moroccans
who had proved satisfactory, offering % o f the productivity of a Frenchman. The
Tonnay-Charente didn’t want to employ foreigners, feeling it unnecessary.996 In La
Rochelle, they claimed that Europeans were much better workers, with the Italians
particularly impressive. The Spanish worked well, as long as they were well
supervised, the Belgians and the Poles also. Overall their productivity was
comparable to the French. As for non-white labour, Moroccans, Kabyles and
Algerians were all felt to be mediocre. The Cantonese were unsatisfactory, though
those from North China were better. The Senegalese labour was very poor and
colonial labour as a whole only equated to 30-40% of French labour. Neither StValery nor Fecamp had employed foreign labour either, with the latter emphasing that
it had no desire to do so.997 There were also no foreigers used in the ports of the
Cotes-du-Nord or at Nice.998
The authorities o f the port in Dieppe claimed that the Belgians and Italians they had
employed were both useful. They hadn’t utilised colonial workers, so they couldn’t
comment directly, though they did mention that the British in the area who had
employed Chinese labourers were very unhappy with them.999 Only Spanish and
Portuguese had been utilised at Bayonne, where they were rated as 70% effectiveness.
995 AN
996 AN
997 AN
998 AN
999 AN
F/14/11337 22 December, 1918, Undated.
F/14/11337 17 December, 1918.
F/14/11337 15 December, 1918, 19 December, 1918.
F/14/11337 4 December, 1918, 12 December, 1918.
F/14/11337 11 December, 1918.
247
At St-Malo there had also been limited use of foreign workers, the handful of
Tunisians they’d used were slightly less useful than the German prisoners who
themselves offered two-thirds o f the utility of the French.1000
In Nantes, they rated the Belgians as the best, followed by the Italians. The Spanish
offered reasonable output, but were difficult employees. The Greeks were largely
passable, with some very good workers, the Algerians passable, but often weak and
indolent. The Chinese were also believed to be weak and difficult to discipline. For all
the non-European contingents it was considered impossible to assign them work with
coal or dirty products.1001 In Marseille, they felt the Italians were the best, the Spanish
were good, but for their temperaments and were thus worth only 67% of French
workers. The Kabyle labourers had some strengths, but on the whole colonial labour
was very mediocre, and should only be called upon as a last resort.1002
In the Gironde, they simply expressed their preferences in percentage terms, with the
French and the Belgians acquiring 100%, the Spanish, the Italians and the
Kabyles/Moroccans all got 90%. The Portuguese were also reasonably well regarded,
with 75%. Less appreciated were the Senegalese at 50, the Chinese at 40 and the
Indochinese at 30.1003 The port o f Cette gave similar ratings to those of the Gironde
for the Italians, Spanish and the Senegalese, but were very negative about the
Moroccans, who were given only 30% and described as naturally “maladroit” and
“gauche.”1004 This table averages all the measurable ratings given to the various
nationalities.
1000 AN
1001 AN
1002 AN
1003 AN
1004 AN
F/14/11337
F/14/11337
F/14/11337
F/14/11337
F/14/11337
14 December,
26 December,
31 December,
29 December,
13 December,
1918.
1918.
1918.
1918.
1918.
248
Table 6
Average rating of foreign contingents in French ports.
French
Belgians
Italians
Spanish
Portuguese
German PoW
North Africans
Greeks
Senegalese
Chinese
Indo-Chinese
100
100
80
76.25
72.50
72.33
60.25
50
47.5
44
30
Apart from the low score for the Greeks, based solely upon the unimpressive
performance of their contingent in Nantes, the hierarchy of European over nonEuropean labour is unchallenged. Of the foreign labour, the North African workers
score considerably higher than the Senegalese, with the Chinese and the Indochinese
last. That ratings that equated the work of one Frenchman with that of 2 or even 3
colonial workers was taken seriously can be gathered from other sources. For
instance, a M. de Poorter requested 20 French mobilised miners for his operation.
When this was turned down, he requested 40 foreign miners, with a preference for
PoWs.1005 M. Mathey, in charge o f the management of rivers and forests claimed that
it was obvious to him that Asiatic or African labour could not be equated with
European. From what he had heard about Algerian labour, it was roughly a quarter
inferior to European labour. The original draft had said “a fifth” but this had been
corrected, indicating that this was not simply a random figure.1006
Asked how they wanted to replace prisoners of war at the end of the conflict,
employers in Rouen declared their preference for Belgians, then Spanish, Bosnians,
Italians and Poles. Chinese and colonial workers not envisaged as it was felt that they
could not deal with the rainy climate. For the authorities in Nantes they wanted
Belgians, Russians and Poles and the exclusion of colonial workers. Caen’s order of
1005 AN F/12/8008, June 1916.
1006 AN F/12/8004, 13 March, 1916.
249
preference was Belgians, Spanish, Italians, Kabyles, Algerians, Moroccans and lastly
Senegalese. Indo-Chinese and Chinese workers were considered unable to cope with
either the work or the climate. The report added that Kabyles and Chinese should be
kept separate in order to avoid the constant brawls between them. Given that the
Societe Normande de Metallurgie employed Chinese workers it seemed best if Caen
was only allocated European workers. Other ports were more forthright. In StNazaire, it was reported that neither the Chamber of Commerce nor the Association of
Employers wanted at any price to employ colonial or foreign labour. In the minutes of
the meeting where this was decided, the employers declared they’d rather suspend
operations than hire foreigners, if French labour proved insufficient.
Honfleur
declared that they hoped to do without foreign workers and no-one would accept
“exotiques” workers. Similarly, Brest declared itself unanimously and resolutely
opposed to the introduction o f a colonial workforce. In St-Malo, Trouville and the
ports of the Cotes du Nord, foreigners were not required. Only the port of Granville
broke the trend, declaring their preference for Moroccans.
One of the reasons why the ports may have displayed a general preference for North
Africans (and even sub-Saharan Africans who generally had a poor reputation as
workers) over Chinese and Indochinese workers may have been the nature of the
work in the docks. It was considered to be very arduous, physical work which the
relatively robust North Africans could manage, but that the Chinese and Indochinese
could not, given that they were traditionally seen as being frailer, if perhaps more
skilful.
Consistency of attitudes.
Foreign labour was usually utilised during the war in a similar fashion to its use
before the conflict. They worked in groups, under French supervision, doing unskilled
or semi-skilled work. There was little opportunity to overcome pre-war prejudices.
When these workers were praised it was usually not for the quality of their work but
for their docile behaviour, and often in phrases that echoed pre-war assessments. For
example a very positive article on Algerian and Kabyle immigrant workers in France
250
printed in January 1914 lauded them as sober, reliable and well-behaved.1007 In a 1917
report from the Prefect o f the Saone-et-Loire on the Tunisian agricultural workforce it
was claimed “ce sont des hommes doux, sobres, d’un naturel paisible et d’un
maniement facile, a condition qu’on les traite avec justice.” Admittedly “[i]ls ne sont
pas tous sans doute au courant des procedes de culture europeens” but their use had
given excellent results.1008
Female labour also failed to have much impact on male attitudes towards women’s
capabilities. The law o f July 3, 1915 did give paternal authority to married woman for
the duration of the hostilities, if it was impossible for the husband to be contacted to
give his approval. However, this was done out of necessity, and hardly hints at a
significant change in attitudes.1009 In any case, the soldiers at the front continued to
offer instruction to those back home. As Baconnier, Minet and Soler note:
Dans la majorite des cas, leur intervention se limite a des conseils, mais parfois ils exercent un veritable
controle de ce qui est fait en leur absence, demandent des comptes rendus, envoient des ordres et gerent
directement comme par le passe les affaires familiales malgre les difficultes dues a la situation.1010
They conclude that
les hommes acceptent mal de voir les femmes empieter sur leur domaine. Et de loin, ils essaient de
conserver le controle des affaires en les traitant en mineures incapables et irresponsables.1011
While it was practically impossible for the work of women to be controlled by
soldiers hundreds o f miles away, that many sought to do so is indicative of the
resilience of ideas o f female incapacity with regard to operating in certain areas.The
presence of many women amongst the strikers of 1917 came as a surprise to the
authorities and syndicalists alike.1012 When there was discontent amongst the female
personnel at the Dolle-Chaurey factory, due to low wages compared to other factories,
1007 Le Petit Marseillais, 20 January, 1914.
1008 Marguin (ed.) La Saone-et-Loire pendant la guerre de 14-18, 22 May, 1917.
1009 Thebaud, La femme au temps de la guerre, pp. 209-210.
1010 Baconnier et al. La Plume au Fusil, p. 288, examples pp. 288-291, p. 294.
1011 Baconnier et al. La Plume au Fusil, p. 295. David Englander also notes that advice was regularly
sent back from the front. Englander, “The French Soldier. 1914-18” p. 63.
1012 Jacobzone, En Anjou, p. 94.
251
the police attributed it to malign male influence: “il semble que cet etat d’esprit soit la
consequence evidente de la propagande faite recemment par les ouvriers mobilises ...”
When the police reported on similar complaints amongst male workers their claims
were usually examined closely to see if they were justified.1013
In Anjou, the
perception that some men were profiting from the family allocation without working
prompted action from the state: “C’est au point que le prefet inquiet invite les maires
a rechercher les refugies adultes hommes qui touchent 1’allocation et qui refusent le
travail.”1014 It was clearly not considered a significant problem for women to claim
the allocation while refusing to work.
The wider scope o f employment available to women during the war did not end the
division between “men’s work” and “women’s work”. Certain areas of employment
could move from one category to the other as the qualities and aptitudes that they
were believed to require changed, but possession of those aptitudes was held to arise
from traditional gendered stereotypes. Significant sections of the French economy had
already begun a modernisation process in the years before the war, and the efforts to
maximise productivity during the conflict often hastened this. This modernisation
often involved a move away from skilled artisanal work towards unskilled and semi­
skilled factory work. In the context of this modernisation, debates over female labour
during the war are inseparable from the debates over skill that preceded and postdated
the war.
The very concept o f skilled work was a gendered concept with women’s working
qualities being broadly perceived as corresponding with unskilled or semi-skilled
work, while (French) men had the capacity for skilled work. This coexisted with a
discourse that sought to understand female labour outside the home as an extension of
womens homemaking skills
For La Depeche female abilities included an ability to do simple, repetetive work and
to be calm under pressure, but not work that was complicated or physically
demanding. It described the factory work that women were believed to be capable of
1013 AN F/7/13365 Reports from the police in the Haute-Saone to the Surety G£n£rale. 1 December,
1916; 15 November, 1917.
252
as primarily work that was purely mechanical “qui consistent en mouvement toujours
les memes et indefiniment repetes.” They could also be given work that was more
varied but not more complicated work, with less mechanisation involved.
Enfin au dernier se placeraient des travaux qui exigent, non pas plus force et d’adresse, mais plus de
sang-froid et de decision calme: le type est en action electrique ou hydraulique qui, de haut d’une
passerelle, par le simple pression d’un bouton, met on branle les blocs de fer rouge destines k passer
entre les cylindres d’un laminoir.1015
Even this seemingly simple task was held to cause problems for women. “II parait que
la puissance meme du mecanisme qu’elles commandent trouble en effare la plupart
des femmes a qui on les confie.”1016 However, with a short apprenticeship, they were
able to get over their fear.
La Petite Gironde advocated women entering areas of the economy which they had
not before. Yet their suggestion was informed by traditional ideas of feminine
characteristics.
La main d’oeuvre feminine - et plutot que main d’ceuvre, il faudrait dire la capacity de travail a tous les
degres - devra etre employee apres la guerre beaucoup plus qu’elle ne l’dtait avant [...] L’industrie
hoteliere, et surtout l’industrie hoteliere de tourisme, est une de celles qui peuvent offrir a l’element
feminin fran9ais un champ d’action particulierement en rapport avec des aptitudes generates.1017
Because, of course, she had natural homemaking abilities.
Another article on women in the hotel industry also called for women to take jobs in
the hotels in order to prevent those jobs having to go to foreigners.
L’industrie hoteliere manque de main d’ceuvre... a l’heure ou, precisement, viennent les jours ou il la
lui faudra plus nombreuse qu’hier. Car un immense flot d’etrangers est tout pret a couvrir la France aux
premiers signes d’une paix victorieuse que chaque jour passe approche.
1014 Jacobzone, En Anjou, p. 273.
1015 La Depeche, 4 December, 1916.
1016 La Depeche, 4 December, 1916.
1017 La Petite Gironde, 2 January, 1916.
253
Nos hoteliers sont unanimement resolus a ne plus employer qu’un personnel exclusivement franfais, a
condition que ce personnel ne fasse pas defaut. Mais tant d’hommes sont disparus dej& que la femme
trouvera dans l’hotellerie un plus grand nombre d’emplois ou elle pourra s’utiliser,1018
Even those women who were employed by the army were portrayed in traditionally
feminine terms. Le Petit Journal described women working in ancillary services for
the military as “doing the housekeeping o f France.”1019 An article by a respected
doctor, Adolphe Pinard, offers another example. He was arguing that all pregnant
women and women who had just given birth should be removed from factories. He
claimed that these women were not needed for munitions work because there were
sufficiently few women having children at that moment to allow them to be
effectively replaced by men. “Ils se specialiseront aussi vite que les femmes dans la
production des munitions.” Meanwhile “La femme, elle, n’a qu’une aptitude naturelle
pour laquelle elle a ete creee: la production de Venfant. Ne detruisons pas cette oeuvre
de la nature. Favorisons-la.”1020 This is revealing, in that it shows that munitions work
was seen so much as women’s work that Pinard had to state that men would be as
capable as women at it. It also showed that his idea as to the basic and primary
function of women had not been changed.
The belief in women’s ability to make munitions effectively was widespread, but it
was strictly specific to munitions, as Leonard Rosenthal noted in Le Temps, “La
necessite de la fabrication des munitions a permis a des milliers de femmes de gagner
largement leur vie dans les travaux de manoeuvre.” When the industrialist wanted to
make other things than shells “... il cherchera des artisans, et non des manoeuvres; a
ce moment, la femme sera amenee a reprendre son ancien metier.”1021
A comparison of the job advertisements that appeared in La Depeche in the summers
of 1913 and 1918 shows the limits o f change.
1018 La Petite Gironde, 26 April, 1916.
1019 Grayzel, Women’s Identities at War, p. 203.
1020 Le Matin, 6 December, 1916 (emphasis in the original).
1021 Le Temps 11 April, 1917. Rosenthal’s argument was later quoted by Grunebaum-Ballin,
President of the Commission du placement des marins et de la main d’oeuvre maritime, who suggested
254
Table 7
Percentage of employment advertisements aimed at women in La Depeche. 1022
Year
1913
1918
Jobs for women
32.02
33.33
Service
57.97
53.49
Clothing
26.08
27.90
Sales
4.35
2.33
Others
11.59
16.28
Most significant is the lack o f change in the percentage of jobs advertised, aimed at
women. The type o f jobs being offered to women was still largely the same,
dominated by service jobs (which includes chambermaiding, cooking, ironing and
laundry as well as domestic service) and work producing clothes and shoes. The slight
increase in employment opportunities in the latter category at the expense of the
former may be due to changing patterns o f employment, or to the financial hardship
of the war reducing the demand for service jobs, but it doesn’t suggest any change in
what types o f work were suited for women. The next most prevalent offer of
employment was as saleswomen or shop assistants, but this was much less common
than jobs in service or textiles. Moreover, this type of employment was still much
more likely to be advertised towards men.
In making the distinction between skilled and unskilled work, and placing women as
unskilled, the French often paired women with immigrant labour. Reporting on the
needs of the railways, where there was serious undermanning, Claveille, the
Undersecretary of State for Transport argued that foreigners were in general not very
useful as a workforce, being easily corrupted and prone to absenteeism. Colonial
workers could only be used as unskilled labour and were incapable of being trained.
As for women, Claveille argued that by 1st April 1917 the French network
employment of women was probably at its maximum. He argued that they would have
filled the easy jobs first and the only jobs that remained demanded a physical effort
that was beyond most women, or an acclimitisation that would take too long.
1023
This was characteristic of French employment discourse and practice, which tended to
restrict both women and colonial men to unskilled and repetetive labour, with the
that it was possible Rosenthal may have been exaggerating the lack o f technical skills acquired by
women working in munitions. AN F/l 2/8001, July, 1917.
1022 La Depeche, 1-14 July, 1913. 1-14 July, 1918.
255
latter tending to be given work only in large groups.
In the armament factories in Lyon, there were 7550 foreigners employed, representing
10.68% of the total employees. Of the 192 factories, 155 employed foreigners. The
nationalities of these foreigners are recorded in Tables 8 and 9.
As can be seen from the tables, the largest number of foreigners were from Spain,
though the number o f factories employing Italians was significantly higher. The
figures also display the different ways in which white and non-white workers were
hired. European workers were generally employed as individuals or small groups,
while African or Asian workers tended to be employed in much bigger contingents.
1023 AN F/14/11333 Report from the sub-secretary of state for transport, 1 June, 1917.
256
Table 8
Nationality of workers in national defence industries in Lyon, June 1917.1024
Recorded nationality
Spanish
Italians
Africans
Swiss
Algerians
Chinese
Greeks
Belgians
Alsatians
Moroccans
Kabyles
Arabs
Serbs
Egyptians
British (anglais)
Russians
Tunisians
Cypriots
Indochinese (tonkinois)
Luxembourgeois
Armenians
Senegalese
Rest
Number o f workers
employed
2237
1562
647
578
454
398
356
264
189
177
165
122
69
55
53
39
33
30
30
22
18
12
40
% of foreign
workers
29.63
20.69
8.57
7.66
6.01
5.27
4.72
3.50
2.50
2.34
2.19
1.62
0.91
0.73
0.70
0.55
0.44
0.40
0.40
0.29
0.24
0.16
0.53
Number of factories
employed in
76
121
1
73
14
5
11
34
33
4
9
2
8
3
7
12
3
1
1
7
4
2
27
1024 AN F/7/13365, 7 June, 1917. The “Rest” category is made up of nationalities with less than 10
workers in the factories. Those nationalities were Argentinians, Americans, Brazilians, Czechs, Dutch,
Indians, Japanese, Mexicans, Peruvians, Poles, Portuguese, Romanians, and Syrians.
Table 9
Size of foreign contingents in national defence industries in Lyon, June 1917.1025
Nationality
Number
o f workers
Number of
contingents
Spanish
Italians
Africans
Swiss
Algerians
Chinese
Greeks
Belgians
Alsatians
Moroccans
Kabyles
Arabs
Serbs
Egyptians
British
Russians
Tunisians
Cypriots
Indochinese
Luxembourgeois
Armenians
Senegalese
Rest
Total
2237
1562
647
578
454
398
356
264
189
177
165
122
69
55
53
39
33
30
30
22
18
12
40
7550
Europe
(including Russia
and Armenia)
Africa and the
Middle East
Asia
Americas
76
121
1
73
14
5
11
34
33
4
9
2
8
3
7
12
3
1
1
7
4
2
31
458
1-2
39
43
0
35
5
0
4
19
15
1
6
1
0
2
5
9
2
0
0
5
3
1
25
219
Size of contingent
3-9
10-29
30-99
24
4
5
44
27
5
0
0
0
29
7
1
5
2
1
1
0
2
0
1
5
12
0
3
14
1
3
0
3
0
1
1
0
0
0
0
5
3
0
1
0
0
1
0
1
1
2
0
1
0
0
0
0
1
1
0
0
1
1
0
1
0
0
1
0
0
3
0
0
140
55
30
5435
401
190
131
51
16
8
1673
39
19
6
4
6
4
434
14
9
9
2
8
2
1
0
0
3
0
2
0
100+
4
2
1
1
1
2
1
0
0
0
1
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
14
1025 AN F/7/13365, 7 June, 1917. The “Rest” category is made up o f nationalities with less than 10
workers in the factories. Those nationalities were Argentinians, Americans, Brazilians, Czechs, Dutch,
Indians, Japanese, Mexicans, Peruvians, Poles, Portuguese, Romanians, and Syrians.
258
The tables above don’t indicate which nationalities where employed in skilled, or
unskilled work, but the figures from the Ministry of the Marine’s employees from 1
June 1917 are more revealing. One o f the most striking things is that the Chinese are
classified alongside colonial workers, rather than with the foreign workers, so clearly
racial origin was considered fundamental in the compiling of these figures. The
French and Belgians, including military personnel, are mainly employed in skilled
work, with foreigners largely in unskilled positions, a distinction even clearer for
colonial workers. Women are entirely in non-professional employment.
Table 10
Nationalities of workers employed by the Ministry of the Marine, June 1917.1026
Workers
Military
French and Belgian
Foreign
Colonial and Chinese
Prisoners of War
Women
Professionals
9902
24669
39
827
517
0
%
79.66
80.38
42.39
22.68
17.29
0.00
Labourers
2529
6021
53
2820
2473
14967
%
20.34
19.62
57.61
77.32
82.71
100.00
Total
12431
30690
92
3647
2990
14967
The system of classifying the Chinese workers alongside colonial workers rather than
with other foreign workers was not universally employed, as shown in these figures
for employment on the railway network, also from June 1917. The figures do present
the same theme o f French workers being employed in skilled positions at a much
higher percentage than colonial workers or women.
Table 11
Nationality of workers on the French railway network, June 1917.
Workers
French men
Foreigners (including Chinese)
Colonial Workers
Prisoners of War
Women
Skilled
5296
1485
94
2066
425
%
29.99
27.61
5.58
28.85
2.66
1027
Unskilled
12351
3894
1591
5494
15564
%
70.01
72.39
94.42
71.15
97.34
1026 AN F/14/11333 Ministry o f the Marine, 1 June 1917
1027 AN F/14/11333 Report from the sub-secretary o f state for transport, 1 June, 1917
259
The predominance of unskilled jobs amongst women is also evident from the salary
tariffs as set by the Ministry o f Armament, applying to the munitions factories.
In Nantes, there were 4 categories o f workers. A limited range of unskilled
occupations were divided amongst: women, with a pay scale from 0.40 to 0.50 francs
per hour; young workers aged from sixteen to eighteen, whose pay scale ranged from
0.30-0.35; and non-professional men, paid between 0.45 and 0.55 francs. There was
also a long and diverse list o f professional jobs whose pay scale ranged from 0.550.90 francs, where there was no distinction by age or sex.1028 Similarly in St Etienne
and Roanne, the division was made between professional salaries, which were
uniform, and non-professional ones, divided by age and sex.1029
A report by Olivier Bascou, the Prefect o f the Gironde, detailing minimum salaries in
the wood industry is also revealing, explicitly separating female labour from skilled
labour and assessing the former as significantly less valuable.
Table 12
Minimum Salaries in the Gironde Wood Industry, June 19171030
Occupation
Menusiers
Charpentiers-Menuisiers
Charpentiers
Toupilleurs-Mouluriers
Toupilleurs debutants
Ouvriers debutants
Manoeuvres specialises
Manoeuvres sans speciality
Femmes
Francs per hour
0.80
0.80
0.90
0.80
0.75
0.65
0.70
0.60
0.50
An advert from “Le service ouvrier du ministere de TArmemenf’ in Lyon, called for
workers for a variety of (male) professional jobs — masons, carpenters, joiners,
builders and so on, before concluding with “femmes pour travaux diverse
1028 AN F/14/11334 03 March, 1917
1029 AN F/14/11334 28 June, 1917
1030 AN F/14/11334, 30 June, 1917.
260
d’usinage”.1031 Showing a similar distinction between specialised male work and
generic female work, a police report listed the occupations of workers affiliated to the
CGT at the Fremaux factory in Lyon. The 21 men were divided into 9 different
occupations, most o f them specialised, while all but one of the 12 women were
described as “specialisee”. The sole exception was a simple “manoeuvre”.1032
When the committee of economic action in the Nantes region discussed
demobilisation, the commitee suggested that the order in which demobilisation should
occur be determined by employment. In descending order, these were: “Chefs
d’exploitation, proprietaires exploitant eux-memes, ingenieurs agricoles, ouvriers
agricoles, chefs d’industries, techniciens et specialistes, ouvriers.”1033 While the
committee didn’t discuss the rationale for this sequence, it can be reasonably assumed
that it corellated with how satisfactorily these tasks were being carried out by the
interim workforce. In which case, it is noticeable that as well as the unsurprising
significance given to agriculture in Brittany, it also privileges skilled workers over
unskilled, suggesting that the perceived inadequacies of the interim workforce were
seen as more related to skill than brute strength.
Often employment of women seemed to be undertaken as much for social reasons as
on job suitability. Women were required to demonstrate either their suitability in
terms of morality, or else their having suffered as a result of the war. Gallieni, in
December 1915, on the selection o f auxiliary women to be employed in Central
administration, stated that they should be chosen primarily amongst wives, mothers,
daughters and sisters o f soldiers killed or wounded, and amongst those in charge of
families. The candidates had to be French, and “presenter toutes garanties au point de
vue de la moralite”.1034 Women who wished to work as telephone operators for the
Postes Telephones et Telegraphes service after the war had to produce a certificate
attesting to their good character, signed by the mayor or police commissioner of their
home town. This requirement did not exist for men.1035 In 1916 a directive from J
1031 Le Moniteur du Puy-de-Ddme, 4 January, 1917.
1032 AN F/7/13360, Police Report, 28 November, 1917
1033 AN F/12/8008, Minutes o f meeting o f the Committee o f Economic Action for the 11th Region, 11
January, 1918
1034 AN F/12/7999, December, 1915.
1035 Frader. “From Muscles to Nerves” p. 139
261
Thierry, an under secretary in the ministry of war, declared that in order to help
unemployed women and other women deprived of a livelihood by the war, “les
travaux de confections faciles (chemises, cale^ns, etuis-musettes, etc.) ont ete
reservees aux associations charitables”.1036 At a meeting of syndicalists in Toulouse in
January 1918 there were complaints about the hiring of young women to work in the
creche, in the belief that employment there should have been reserved for older
women or mothers of families.1037 During the war, the Hotchkiss factory in Lyon had
employed 3000 workers, 800 o f them women. Following the armistice the factory had
fired 550 of the women, retaining 250 chosen on the basis that their family situation
was “plus particulierement digne a interet.” The link between women and the war
wounded was also apparent here as the sacked women received an indemnity ranging
from 180-300 francs. 1200 men were also fired, without indemnity, except for those
wounded in the war. “Toutefois les ouvriers mutiles de guerre seront assimiles aux
femmes.”1038
The Popular Debate
Marie-Monique Huss has examined the postcards that were sent extensively
throughout the war. She argues that while the press extolled the advances of women at
work, their move into areas previously reserved for men, “et parfois meme
l’emergence d’une nouvelle image de la femme”; was not reflected in the
representations
in
postcards,
which
remained
traditional.1039 Women
were
“representees en train de prendre soin de leur famille et de faire toumer le pays, sans
les hommes. Avec de titre comme
L’autre Front, ou L’autre Devoir, ces cartes
apportent leur contribution a la mobilisation feminine, contrepartie du celle des
hommes.”1040
There was also a notable difference between how working women were depicted.
Those knitting or performing other traditional tasks were portrayed seriously, while
1036 AN F /l2/7999, 30 August, 1916.
1037 AN F/7/12986/1, 19 January, 1918.
1038 AN F/7/13365, Police Report. 17 December, 1918.
1039 Huss, Histoires de famille p. 213.
1040 Huss, Histoires de famille p. 212.
262
illustrations of nurses were almost always respectful, and sometimes reverential.1041
By contrast, women working in the arms factories were treated irreverently, with the
patronising diminutives munitionette or obusette, and they were the subjects of
humorous or erotic images. This was unlike Britain, where women producing
weapons were depicted as respected and valued contributors to the war effort.1042
Advertisements overwhelmingly continued to portray women in traditional roles.
Cartoons promoting Phoscao, a product supposed to ease stomach ailments,
consistently depicted women as nurses or maids aiding or serving male soldiers
throughout 1916.1043 An advertisement for Globeol pills depicted a male physician
offering a sickly woman some pills, indicating that they would give her the radiant
health of a young woman picking flowers outside.1044 Another depicted an elderly
male farmer sowing a crop o f the pills and achieving a harvest of healthy young
women.1045 When the makers o f Tonitrine wanted to display its fortifying powers it
depicted male miners, workers or soldiers; women were shown as nuns or nurses.1046
The articles in newspapers also did not display a widespread acceptance of women’s
working practices changing. La Bataille, in an article on women working in a factory,
argued that “Ces femmes font toutes sortes de travaux; la plupart de ces travaux ne
sont pas en rapport avec la force feminine [...] qu’importe, il faut qu’elles les
accomplissent tout de meme.” If they couldn’t or wouldn’t carry out these tasks,
despite them not being suitable for women’s strength, La Bataille argued they would
be sacked.1047 Godechot describes the reaction of the newspapers in the south:
Puis ce sont les P.T.T., l’enseignement, les banques, les joumaux et la pouderie qui embauchent des
femmes. Les joumaux conservateurs, et memes La Depeche s’en alarment. Seul le Midi socialiste
1041 Huss, Histoires de famille p. 212, pp. 215-216.
1042 Huss, Histoires de famille p. 208, p. 214, for examples see p. 207, p. 212, p. 215, p. 225.
1043 L ’Eclair du Midi.
1044 La Depeche, 10 February, 1916.
1045 La Depeche, 24 February, 1916.
1046 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 6 April, 1916, 12 November, 1916, 13 April, 1916, 16 April, 1916, 10
September, 1916.
1047 La Bataille, 19 July, 1916.
263
approuve ces initiatives et s’eleve contre les ‘insinuations abominables et les injures infectes des
joumaux bourgeois’.1048
This reaction was not at the start o f the war, but in January 1917.
Godechot notes that by April 1918 La Depeche had come round to accept “les droites
politiques et sociaux [...] de la femme ne pourront plus etre nies”1049 Yet this seeming
acceptance that women had proven themselves is a non sequitur. By working in
various fields previously closed to them, women had not earned the right to carry on
working in them; instead they had earned political and social rights. To La Depeche,
women had not proved themselves as capable workers in every area, but they had
shown that they were prepared to suffer for the country, thus deserving political
reward. The readers o f L 'Ouest-Eclair made a similar argument when the paper held a
debate on female suffrage. Various people suggested that “Pour prix de ses peines, de
ses souffrances et de ses larmes, la femme serait admise a elire les conseillers
municipaux, [...] peut-etre meme les deputes.”1050 The newspaper itself seemed to be
taking that line when (in the context o f whether women should be granted the vote) it
recounted the contribution o f women during the war.
mamans sublimes, vivant dans les pires angoisses, la plupart douloureusement frappees en plein cceur;
femmes heroi'ques, cachant souvent a leur enfant, les larmes que causa la mort du pere; ou, tout
simplement, cultivatrices laborieuses dirigeant, seules, la ferme pendant que le mari se bat; ouvrieres
courageuses faisant [...] ‘deux joumees dans une’ afin de nourrir la petite famille; jeunes filles,
oubliant les distractions permises a des cerveaux de vingt ans, pour se consacrer a une tache aride,
modeste et sans gloire, qui permet a la maman de grossir les recettes du maigre budget familial...”1051
Once again this shows the assumption that those who had suffered during the war
should be favoured over those seen to have exploited it. That the same criterion was
applied to foreign labour is illustrated by the response of the director of the Atelier de
1048 J. Godechot, “L’Essor? (1914-1973)” in Phillipe Wolff (ed.) Histoire de Toulouse, Toulouse:
Privat (1974) p. 499.
1049 Godechot, “L’Essor?” p. 499.
1050 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 8 February, 1918. Notice that the reward is for women’s suffering and tears, in
other words, for being feminine.
1051 L'Ouest-Eclair, 8 February, 1918.
264
Fabrication in Toulouse to a complaint about foreign workers from a delegation of
about 150 women workers, led by M. Valette. He argued
qu’il allait prendre des dispositions pour congedier, des qu’il le pourra, les sujets portugais, espagnols
ou des autres nations; pour les Annamites et les Malgaches, il demandera qu’ils soient rendus
disponibles quand les necessites du service le permettront. Quant aux Serbes et aux Beiges qui sont des
eprouves de la guerre, il a declard ne pouvoir y toucher.1052
Particularly in jobs involving the taking o f responsibility it was often felt that women
were overstretching themselves. Gustave Lanson, the most respected literary scholar
of the time, believed that the taking over o f lycee teaching by women and elderly men
had led to a significant decline in the quality of secondary teaching, making it
necessary for the Sorbonne to bring in introductory courses.1053 According to Henri
Spont, the women who had become the first lawyers and doctors were admired
because they “avait eu le courage de renoncer aux amusements frivoles de son sexe
pour plonger ses jolis yeux dans de vieux grimoire et qui preferait a la poudre la
poussiere des bibliotheques.”1054 Nevertheless, their true goal was to get married. He
added that while some exceptional women might succeed in professional roles, many
others would fail to match their unrealistic ambitions.
Pour quelques virtuoses qui, douees d’une intelligence virile et exemptes de prejuges, pouvaient, au
prix d’efforts et de concessions penibles, reussir a s’imposer dans un monde ou les bonnes places sont
occupees par les hommes, combien d’autres, victimes de leur illusions, succomberont sur la route trop
longue, trop dure.1055
Even those female virtuosos blessed with an intelligence that was “virile”, and hence
presumably similar to male intelligence, could only suceed at great personal cost. In
an extreme example o f women failing to cope with the situation, Yves Pourcher has
described the case o f a female baker named Ryom in the maison de sante des
Capucins. “C’est une malheureuse femme qui se trouvant seule a la tete de son
commerce depuis le depart de son mari pour Salonique a perdu completement la
raison. Elle s’arrache les cheveux et s’accuse d’avoir tue tous ses enfants.” In this
1052 AN F/7/12986/1, 5th February, 1918.
1053 Hanna, “French Women and American Men” p. 109.
1054 Spont, La Femme et la Guerre, p. 66.
265
report it seems to be implied that being left in charge, rather than her husband’s
departure to the front, was the cause o f her insanity.1056
On a rare occasion, an advert (for Pilules Pink) showed women undertaking strenuous
labour, bringing in the harvest. The text warned “Puisque los nobles travaux de la
terre incombent aujourd’hui aux femmes [...] il importe de les mettre en garde contre
les consequences d’un effort admirable, mais parfois excessif.”1057 Still more
daringly, in October 1917 it featured a woman making shells. The actual work of the
woman was not obviously masculine; she was simply turning a wheel of a machine. It
was feared that even this placed undue demands upon a woman, and that “[l]e courage
ne peut indefmement suppleer les forces defaillantes,” thus it was necessary for
women to take extra care o f their health.1058 Similarly, another restorative product,
Tontrine, was offered to a woman to try and revive her from exhaustion, brought
about by having to look after her farm.1059 This message is illustrative of a wideranging discourse that argued women were risking their health through the extra or
new tasks they were undertaking. On the political left, the Bataille and the Vague both
regularly criticised the working conditions that tested women to the limits of their
capacities. On the right, Mme. Debrol lauded the work women were doing while the
husbands were at the front but noted “Et c ’est quelquefois dur! les aguillages, les
bousculades du Dimanche, les perpetuelles trepidations! Mais elles sont heureuses de
remplir leur place et de faire leur tache.1060 J. B. Masse, owner of an insurance
company commented that many women whose husbands and sons had been mobilised
were forced to take work to support their families and that this work was “plus ou
moins nuisibles a leur sante”.1061
Loisel and Klotz’s study o f the British war factories led them to comment on how it
had been recognised there that women could not manage to work at exactly the same
1055 Spont, La Femme et la Guerre, p. 72.
1056 Pourcher, La Vie des Franqais, p. 280.
1057 La Depeche, 20 July, 1917.
1058 La Depeche, 3 October, 1917.
1059 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 20 April, 1916.
1060 Le Petit Marseillais, 7 July, 1915.
1061 Masse, Notice des assurances sur la vie p. 4.
266
rate as men. They argued that it was the general rule in England that “la joumee de
travail est plus chargee pour l ’ouvrier que pour l’ouvriere”.1062 Moreover
Pour les femmes, il semble bien reconnu, par l’ensemble des industriels anglais, que l’ouvriere, tout en
pouvant depenser la meme somme d’energie que l’homme, a cependant plus besoin que lui de pauses
au cours de son temps de travail.1063
Women’s ability or inability to undertake arduous physical work was regularly linked
with their reproductive role. Amar’s book on the physiological organisation of work
cautioned
On doit ecarter des travaux durs les enfants qui n’on pas atteint dix-huit ans, et les femmes, car ils
manquent de la force necessaire, vu leur maigre musculature. Ces demieres sont affaiblies par les
menstruations [...] et la grossesse\X0(A
In the first meeting o f a parliamentary committee on female work, in May 1916, the
chair Paul Strauss, argued that simply recruiting women was not enough, it was also
necessary to ensure that they were employed in a way that best corresponded to their
aptitudes, their interests and their physical and moral health, in order to safeguard the
race and to prepare for the future.1065
While lauding the majority o f the brave women workers who offered their devotion to
the defence of France, Paul Vemedal’s medical thesis on the impact of the war on
children in Toulouse concluded that factory work was bad for pregnant women”.1066
An article by L ’Echo de Midi on the problem of the workforce provides a good
illustration of the impression that women workers were making on male observers. It
began positively, “Cet emploi de la main d’ceuvre feminine n’a rencontra aucune
opposition, et le nombre de femmes employees dans les usines de guerre, deja tres
considerable, va croissant tous les jours.” This was not the whole story, however.
1062 Gustave Loisel and Klotz, Les Ouvriers & Ouvrieres des Usines de Guerre en Angleterre, Paris:
Citroen (1917) p. 60.
1063 Loisel and Klotz, Les Ouvriers & Ouvrieres, p. 61.
1064 Amar, Organisation Physiologique du Travail, p. 119.
1065 Comite du travail feminin, Protection et utilisation de la main d'oeuvre feminine, p. 68.
1066 Vemedal, L ’Enfant de la Guerre a Toulouse, p. 36, pp. 36-44.
267
Mais les femmes, quelle que soit la bonne volonte, ne sont pas capables de suffire a tous les travaux.
Leur resistance physique a des limites, aussi bien que celle de ces auxiliaires ecartes du service arme en
raison justement de leur mauvaise santd ou de leur faiblesse de constitution.
This physical weakness was considered so pronounced that the paper argued that not
just male colonial labour - Annamites, Kabyles, and Moroccans - should be utilised
instead but those men too old to have been already mobilised were preferable as they
were “plus robustes, malgre leur age”.1067
The post-war abandonment o f much o f their wartime employment by women seems to
have been taken as a given by many contemporaries. A report summarising the work
of the various committees and sub-committees o f economic action illustrated that
women were not expected to remain in the workforce when it argued that while the
situation of “interimaires” deserved attention, the majority of these workers were
women or the elderly who would, when peace arrived, abandon the factory to return
to their husbands and children; or else they were refugees. As for those who had died
in the war, or had become too seriously wounded to undertake their pre-war
occupation, “la question des interimaires se posera sans acuite. Elle sera d’autant
moins a redouter que la main-d’oeuvre etrangere aura ete plus reglementee.1068 Le
Soir reported in 1918 the complaints o f the deputy, M. Durafour, about an arsenal that
had fired a third o f its male personnel. Durafour appeared to have little interest in the
firing of women.1069 In July 1917, there was an inter-ministerial conference on the
employment issue, debating what would happen when peace arrived. M.GrunebaumBallin, President o f the Commission du placement des marins et de la main d’ceuvre
maritime, was the principal speaker. He argued that the closing of the munitions
factories and the desire o f demobilised troops to return to their previous occupations
would deprive a certain number o f women their jobs. However, he believed that the
majority o f spouses and mothers would be happy to return to their domestic tasks and
the joys of home, and to quit work that was often laborious.1070 He also quoted M.
Fuster, professor o f the College o f France: “Une masse de ces ouvriers d’aujourd’hui,
1067 L ’Eclair du Midi, 24 April, 1916.
1068 AN F /l2/8001, The report is undated, but seems most likely to have been made in 1916.
1069 Le Soir, 25 April, 1918.
268
femmes, jeunes gens, vieillards, moins valides, aura ete rejetee de l’usine.” Many of
them were working only because o f the departure of a mobilised soldier, but some of
them needed employment. Fuster wondered if these people would compete with
returning troops for jobs, but his conclusion as to who would be best suited to the job
was clear.1071
For the unionists, the situation was similar. Jouhaux argued that, “Nous ne pouvons
pas a l’heure actuelle, nous opposer a l’emploi de la main d’ceuvre feminine.”1072
Again women’s work is seen as only a stopgap. Luquet, a national CGT leader, made
a revealing comment early in 1916 when he said
After the war, when our own have laid down arms and can once again take up their tools, the women
who occupied their posts in the hell o f industry will relinquish their places to their male companions.
Will it be the same if... female labour is replaced by Asian or African labor?1073
This obviously shows that, after the war, women were expected to leave the
occupations they had just filled, so much so that it could be taken as a given.
Interestingly, it also indicates that employers were considering immigrant labour as a
replacement for women during the war, which again questions whether women were
really thought to be capable o f some o f the necessary tasks, even for a short period of
time. In June 1917 a police report made a similar point, referring to “women,
temporarily transformed into wartime workers”.1074 In a report for the sub-committee
of economic action in the Cher, M. Amichau, argued that to prevent men and women
competing against each other for jobs after the war it was necessary to employ the
principle of equal pay for equal work - which he believed would ensure that
industrialists would choose to employ men.1075
It must also be stressed that there was no attempt to recruit colonial women. While the
most important factor in this was probably a desire to stop immigrants getting too
1070 AN F/12/8001, July, 1917.
1071 AN F/12/8001, July, 1917.
1072 La Bataille, 28 January, 1916.
1073 Home, “Immigrant Workers in France” p. 84.
1074 Downs, Manufacturing Inequality, p. 146.
1075 AN F/l 2/8004, Sub-committee o f economic action report, department of Cher, 29 March, 1916.
269
settled, it did create a much higher possibility o f sexual relations between immigrants
and French women, which, as discussed elsewhere, was seen as a problem. That this
was considered a price worth paying tends to imply that a low value was placed on the
labour of colonial women. When immigrants did bring their wives, they often took on
traditional roles. An article in Le Matin on 18 August 1916 lauds Greeks working in
Bourgogne as perfect workers, and is entirely positive. The women and children who
had accompanied them were portrayed laughing and chatting as they undertook their
domestic work.1076
Agriculture
In the agricultural sector, the problem o f a lack of manpower had been one that caused
great concern even before the war. The loss o f huge numbers o f men to the front, and
the high casualties suffered there only exacerbated this situation. The peasantry were
significantly
over-represented
amongst
the
infantry,
and
thus
sustained
proportionately more casualties than most other sections of society. The response to
the shortage o f men entailed the hiring o f considerable numbers of foreign labour,
particularly Portuguese and Spanish, and a much greater role for women. In more than
a third of farms, a woman was left at the head of operations. Of course, women
working in agriculture was nothing new, but in the farms where a woman did take
over the management of the farm they also took over certain tasks previously
•
restricted to men - for instance ploughing and the selling of produce.
1077
In agriculture there was a consistent message; women had worked heroically to
replace men, but had not proved to be entirely adequate. A report on agriculture in the
Tours region despaired that since the departure of the last class there were no more
people in the countryside and that the old and the young who remained were
absolutely insufficient to carry out the intensive farming that was needed in the
region. The agricultural workers who remained were mediocre workers, with a feeble
output. Not only this, but they made excessive salary demands.1078 In a debate in the
1076 Stovall, “The Color Line Behind The Lines”, p. 747. Le Matin, 18 August, 1916.
1077 Annie Moulin, Les pccysans dans la societe frangaise de la Revolution a nos jours. Paris: Editions
du Seuil (1988) p. 171.
1078 AN F/12/8003, Undated, probably from Spring, 1916.
270
chamber on how to avoid land being abandoned, Fernand David claimed “les femmes
seront incapables d’expliquer pourquoi leur terre n’est pas cultivee.”1079 L ’OuestEclair argued that
dans la plupart des fermes, ce sont des femmes qui executent, en partie, le travail que faisaient
precedemment les hommes. L’etat general des fermes en souffre et le rendement s’en trouve fortement
diminue.1080
A report on agriculture and mechanisation, by the agronomist Jacques Lesuer, for the
Ministry o f Agriculture in the winter o f 1915-1916 lauded the marvellous patriotism
of the French in ensuring that the agricultural situation in 1914-1915 wasn’t as bad as
had been feared. He praised everyone for making a marvellous effort, the elderly,
women, children and non-mobilised men. Unfortunately he thought it improbable that
such an effort could be repeated.1081 Later, the author lauded American machines
simple enough that the children and wives o f the soldiers could “conserver au sol sa
richesse en attendant que les jeunes generations nous donnent de nouveaux hommes
qui rendront a l’agriculture les bras que la guerre lui aura fait perdre.”
10 8
')
In the Indre-et-Loire it was noted that in 1914 women had bravely managed to fill the
breach. However, it had been due to an incredible effort and in 1915 the courage of
these farmers was beginning to weaken and many of them were overburdened by
work beyond their strength.1083 Nearby, in the Maine-et-Loire, at the beginning of
1916, a report made a distinction between farms where a man remained “pour assurer
1’utilisation des attelages aux labours, hersages, roulages et transports de toute sorte”
and farm where only a woman remained. In the former, 15 day agricultural leaves
would suffice, but in those farms o f over 15 hectares where a woman was on her own
the continual presence o f a good worker, able to drive a plough was indispensable.1084
In February 1916, the Deux-Sevres made a similar distinction. The region had been
1079 La Petite Gironde, 7 April, 1916.
1080L ’Ouest-Eclair, 24 April, 1917.
1081 AN F/10/2185, November 1915 - February, 1916.
1082 AN F/10/2185, November 1915 - February, 1916.
1083 AN F /l2/8003, undated, probably January, 1916.
1084 AN F /l2/8003, undated, probably January, 1916.
271
understaffed even before the war, and things were now critical. On small farms,
women and the aged could just about cope.
Quand l’exploitation n’a que 10 a 15 hectares, le travail se fait mal, mais il se fait encore, grace au
courage de la femme et du vieillard, courage et vaillance qui n’ont d’egal que le devouement de nos
soldats.
But even to do the work badly was requiring an overwhelming effort, and it was
feared that being forced to maintain this effort would exhaust those who remained. As
to alternative sources o f labour, Belgians, Italians and Poles weren’t available,
Spanish and Kabyles were unsatisfactory, as were Belgian refugees. The committee
recommended utilising German prisoners, despite some misgivings.1085
By 1917 another report for the Ministry o f Agriculture reported a critical situation.
Pour donner de 1’impulsion aux travaux des champs, il faut des hommes. C’est un des gros facteurs de
vivification, c ’est celui qui touche le plus pres a l’autorite militaire [...] La culture manque de bras
malgre tous les efforts faites jusqu’a ce jour dans le but d’employer des travailleurs coloniaux, des
etrangers, des prisonniers de guerre. [...] Des ouvriers americains pourraient aussi venir dans nos usines
de guerre, liberer des soldats qui remplaceraient au front autant de terriens, mais ceci c’est
hypothetique et le temps presse.1086
While many of these reports may attest primarily to a situation where the work was
too much for the few people left on the farms to undertake, regardless of their sex,
other reports highlight specifically doubts over women’s ability to manage. The
President of the syndicat agricole d’Yvrac wrote a letter describing how the lack of
winegrowers had forced the owners o f vineyards to “utiliser tant bien que mal, pour le
taille de la vigne, tous les hommes et les jeunes gens, quelque fois meme des femmes”
and as a result the work was not done.
1087
A report presented to the Comite d’action nationale drew attention to the vulnerability
of women trying to run farms on their own.
1085 AN F/l 2/8004, Sub-committee o f economic action report, 13 February, 1916.
1086 AN F/10/2185, 15 May, 1917. Emphasis in the original.
1087 AN F/12/8011, 4 November, 1916
272
Voyez-vous ces malheureuses femmes, restees seules dans les fermes, la plupart isolees, des vieillards
dans la meme situation, auxquels on propose comme main d’ceuvre des vagabonds et des traineurs!
Mais ces femmes, et avec raison, preferent abandonner le ferme plutot que d’y introduire de tels
elements et elles ont raison. [...] Le retour, la presence du mari, de l’homme; il en impose forc^ment, il
peut embaucher des ouvriers, des ouvrieres, que sa femme n’osait pas venir. [...] Jamais on ne dira
assez le courage, l’heroisme meme qu’ont montre grand nombre de femmes restees a la tete
d’exploitations agricoles.1088
This is by no means a hostile report, indeed it describes as heroic those women who
remain in charge o f farms, but it does argue that women aren’t capable of doing the
hiring and firing o f agricultural labourers that might be necessary for the running of
the farm. Not only were they too fearful to sack agricultural workers, but the report
also described that they lived in fear o f the anger and fury of those workers when they
were drunk.1089
The sub-committee of economic action in the Loir-et-Cher complained about the lack
of quantity, and sometimes lack o f quality in its workforce. A certain number of
courageous wives had taken the place o f their husbands. “Mais la plupart d’entre elles
s’occupent des autres travaux qui leur sont habituellement reserves. Ce personnel,
assez mediocre dans la plupart des cas et toujours en nombre insuffisant, ne peut
executer qu’une faible partie des travaux les plus necessaries.”1090 Similarly a report
on agriculture in the Dordogne reported that the work carried out by women, the
elderly, or by children was generally badly done; ploughing was superficial, the
weeding insufficient, anticryptogamique treatments too slow, the harvests sometimes
compromised.1091 Women were also under the vigilant surveillance of other members
of their family, or even husbands at the front.1092
M. Lefebvre du Prey opposed granting women the vote on the grounds that though
they had rendered immense service to agriculture they could not replace men, while in
1088 AN F/12/8025, 15 January, 1917.
1089 AN F/12/8025, 15 January, 1917.
1090 AN F/12/8003, 8 January, 1916.
1091 AN F/12/8003, Sub-committee o f economic action report, department o f Dordogne, 12 January,
1916.
1092 Moulin, Les paysans dans la societe frangaise, p. 171.
273
the factories they needed to be helped by soldiers sent back from the front.1093 In 1919
the Petite Gironde concluded
Les femmes, les enfants, les vieillards, avec un courage et une ardeur qui ont fait l’admiration de tous,
ont multiple leur efforts [...] mais les forces humaines ont des limites qui arretent les meilleures
volontes; la nature a des droits et des exigences qu’il faut satisfaire.1094
A directive from the Prefect o f the Aude in January 1917 to the mayors and teachers
of the department called for...
Les heures consacrees a Penseignement agricole, ainsi qu’aux exercices physiques seront
obligatoirement employees a partir de 15 Fevrier a la mise en valeur des terres destinees h la production
des cultures les plus simples: pommes de terre, haricots, pois, carottes, choux, salsifis.1095
However, the schools for girls were to concentrate on the raising of “lapins, poules,
pintades, canards, oies, dindons, L’elevage des pores devre etre developpe dans les
etablissements pourvus d’un intemat.”1096 The Bataille praised a similar scheme
undertaken by the prefect o f Saone-et-Loire.1097 Once again it is noticeable that the
role assigned to women focuses on their presumed natural instinct for nurture.
A poster in La Main d ’CEuvre agricole from June 1917 depicted men before they
departed to the front and the women who were replacing them. However, the
difference in tasks undertaken by the two sexes was stark. The men were featured
sharpening a scythe and forging a sword on an anvil respectively. By contrast, one
woman was shown picking grapes by hand while the other was using a machine to
make a shell.1098 In agriculture, as in industry, men are seen as skilled craftsmen with
the capacity for undertaking heavy manual labour, while women are seen as deft,
nimble workers, whose skilful hands can be utilised to compensate for their fragile
arms. Overall the war also made little impact on broader trends towards the
1093 La Petite Gironde, 16 May, 1919.
1094 La Petite Gironde, 2 January, 1919.
1095 AN F/12/8025, 29 January, 1917. Emphasis in the original.
1096 AN F/12/8025, 29 January, 1917.
1097 La Bataille, 24 February, 1917.
1098 Gervereau and Prochasson, Images de 1917, p. 68.
274
domination of agriculture by medium-sized family farms or towards rural
depopulation caused by low natality and migration towards the towns.1099
Working-class attitudes
For the working-class leadership, women’s work in factories was seen as acceptable
as long as they were spared the worst excesses of industrial labour. Working class
organisations regularly urged the need to protect women in the factories. In 1918, the
syndicat de la metallurgie wanted to “proteger la femme dans nos usines.”1100 Writing
about striking women in munitions factories in La Bataille, Jouhaux argued that they
accepted women’s labour only as long as employers took account of the “forces
limitees” of women, as well as offering equal pay for equal work.1101 Jouhaux also
shared the concern that factory work should not prevent women from fulfilling their
social role - that o f giving birth.. He complained about the attitude of recalcitrant
employers, asking rhetorically “Ne doit-on pas voir dans la femme la mere de famille
indispensable a la continuity de la nation?”1102
The general tone o f comments from men in the labour movement did suggest that they
didn’t believe that women were getting enough protection in industry. Merrheim
argued that women had “over-extended” themselves in the factories during the war
and needed to be returned to the home. Bardy, the Secretary of the Union des
Syndicats de la Gironde said that women in the factories were ruining both their
physical and moral health. In November 1917, one of the demands by the Syndicat de
la Voiture was o f an increase in the length o f rest periods for women.1103
The Syndicat des Ouvriers et Ouvrieres en Metaux de la Seine called for the English
week, with Saturdays off, claiming that it would bring about an incontestable
improvement in the lives o f working women. Firstly because it would allow them to
get down to caring for their “neglected” home, secondly for the joy of spending time
1099 Moulin, Les paysans dans la societe franqaise pp. 179-181.
1100 AN F /l2/8024, 14 April, 1918.
1101 La Bataille, 10 January, 1917.
1102 La Bataille, 28 January, 1916, 10 January, 1917.
1103 AN F/7/13361 Police Reports from the Loire-Infrrieure, 31 August, 1918; AN F/7/13360, Police
275
with the children, and finally to allow them to prepare for the rest they’d earned by a
hard week’s work.1104
In February 1916, Lyon municipal council adopted the measure of equal pay for equal
work for all women who replaced male workers and performed the same task as they
had. Jouhaux argued in favour o f the measure—it would allow women more rest,
essential since their delicate bodies could not work as hard as men without adversely
affecting their ability to have children.1105 As well as a genuine concern for women
and their ability to work and be homemakers, the concern over women earning equal
salaries was founded on a desire not to allow women to undercut male wages and
working conditions. This was made explicit by Lecussan, a union activist in the
Haute-Garonne, speaking to the co-operative “L’Union des Travailleurs” in Toulouse.
According to police reports he addressed sharp criticism to women who had accepted
work previously confined to men, without ensuring they got the same rate of pay.1106
For the same reason, when the Congres de l’Association Nationale d’Expansion
economique advised o f the necessity of hiring some foreign labour, they
recommended that, to allay fears o f French workers, these immigrant workers would
be paid the same as other workers in the locality with the same tasks and aptitudes.1107
Another report described a syndicalist meeting, in which Valette criticised women
workers for putting too much effort into their work. This resulted in the production of
too many bullets.1108
In March 1918, the union o f the Poudrerie in Toulouse had a meeting of about 600
people, both male and female. It declared that women should be paid equally to men
on the basis that they were now carrying out all the work previously done by men and
that the war had placed them in the position of men as head of the family. This
represented the first time that equal wages had been demanded by the union; in all
previous demands women had been offered roughly two-thirds of men’s pay.1109 This
Report, 8 March, 1917; AN F/7/13365 16 November, 1917
1104 AN F/7/13365, 14 June, 1917
1105 La Bataille, 13 February, 1916.
1106 AN F/7/12986/1, 29 April, 1918.
1107 AN F /l2/8001, June, 1917.
1108 AN F/7/12986/1, 8 July, 1918.
1109 AN F/7/12986/1, 4 March, 1918.
276
did not mean that women had proved their full equality with men though. In August,
the union continued to demand that women employed in “men’s work” received the
sam salary, but simultaneously demanded the cessation of women’s work in certain
jobs which they lacked “la force et l’energie” to perform. It is interesting that the
union was arguing that women were already doing jobs beyond their abilities, or at
least ones that male workers wanted for themselves.1110
In 1918 the Salaire de base unique was also accepted by the union of the Atelier de
Fabrication in Toulouse, “sur le principe que les femmes dont les besoins sont
identiques a l’homme, beneficient du meme salaires lorsqu’elles font le meme
travail...”. It is noticeable that this demand is based on women’s needs being identical
to men’s, rather than claiming that their value was of equal worth. At the same
meeting they were calling for a pension of 1200 francs for men, compared to just
1000 for women.1111
For the working classes the questions of female and foreign labour were often
addressed together. In March 1917, a speech by Jouhaux to the workers at Le Creusot
was reported to the prefect o f the Saone-et-Loire. Jouhaux argued that women
workers should be supported in the factories, and should be helped to earn an equal
wage to make them “une associe et non une rivale.” As for the foreign workforce, he
believed that they should continue to be employed under the same conditions as
before the war, and that foreign militants should not be deported.
1 1 10
The official line o f working-class organisations was that they were not opposed to
foreign workers, on the condition that their entry into the marketplace did not serve to
replace French workers, reduce salaries, or harm working conditions.
1113
Merrheim
visited Lyon to speak to unionists there, claiming he was trying to avoid “une certaine
effervescence” against the Italian soldiers working there and to not to create any
animosity between workers who didn’t happen to be of the same nationality.1114
1110 AN F/7/12986/1, 18 August, 1918
1111 AN F/7/12986/1, 11 March, 1918.
1112 AN F/7/13365, 11 March, 1917.
1113 l a Bataille, 6 August, 1916.
1114 AN F/7/13365, 13 January, 1918.
277
However, it was very rare that the presence of foreign workers wasn’t seen as
damaging to the interests o f the French labour movement. Jouhaux claimed that
employers sometimes introduced foreign labour to prevent increases in salaries and
argued that “[l]a guerre n’a pas aboli completement ces practiques condamnables.”1115
The syndicat of the Atelier de Fabrication had a meeting in March 1918 in which
they urged the govememnent “de proceder d’abord au renvoi de la main d’oeuvre
etrangere avant d’operer le moindre prelevement sur la main d’oeuvre fran9aise.”1116
Fears of the use o f foreign workers as a tool to lower wages or to counter indigenous
labour militancy were often well founded. In March 1918 a Bordeaux port
administrator requested 100 colonial workers, explicitly stating that it was to bring
down wages in the local labor force.1117 Furthermore, colonial workers were much
more likely to be used as strike-breakers, due to their isolation from Trade Unions, an
inability to seek work elsewhere, and harsher repercussions if they did strike, plus
several other contributory factors.1118
When male workers were faced by the twin challenges o f female and foreign labour,
then they generally supported the women. An assembly of syndicalists in Toulouse
expressed its approval over a guarantee that the female workforce would not be
replaced by colonial workers.
L’Assemblee se montre satisfaite des paroles prononcees a la Tribune de la Chambre par le Ministre de
l’Armement qui a declare que la main d’ceuvre feminine devait etre maintenue et en aucun cas
remplacee par une autre main d’oeuvre telle qu’annamite, malgache, etc., et a en outre pris
1’engagement formel de ne remplacer aucun ouvrier franfais par des ouvriers ou soldats des armees
altiees.1119
This statement is interesting for two reasons. Firstly because it argues against the
replacement of any French worker by a foreigner, be they Indochinese, Malagasy or
from an allied nation. More importantly though it equates the labour of men from
1115 La Bataille, 22 September, 1916.
1116 AN F/7/12986/1, 11 March, 1918.
1117 Stovall, “The Color Line Behind The Lines”, p. 746.
1118 Stovall, “The Color Line Behind The Lines”, pp. 762-3.
1119 AN F/7/12986/1, 5 February, 1918.
278
allied nations as comparable to that o f French men, while that of colonial workers is
comparable to that o f French women.
September 1918, in Nantes, Merrheim declared that the working classes had to
organise in order to achieve the same salaries and bonuses for women as men and also
to allow them to categorically refuse the competetion of the foreign workforce. The
police noted that this point was very loudly applauded by the sizeable audience of
1100 people, including 350 women.1120 It is notable that Merrheim’s comments here
are rather different from the speech he made in Lyon, and it may be that he was
changing his argument in order to appeal to a greater hostility to immigrant workers in
the North West.
When French workers, male or female, felt they were being treated unfairly because
of foreign workers, then hostility towards foreigners became more explicit. At a
meeting of syndicalists in Toulouse in January 1918 it was declared that
II fait aussi connaitre que s’il est question de chomage c ’est du a l’emploi de la main d’ceuvre
coloniale. II n’admet pas que des “negres” viennent prendre la place des femmes de mobilises qui ont
besoin de gagner leur vie. II cite qu’&l’atelier de refection des douilles du Polygone les Malgaches sont
employes a des travaux d’emballage de douilles, alors que des femmes sont employes a des travaux
penibles. Le syndicat protestera contre l’emploi de cette main d’ceuvre dans les ateliers.1121
This statement is revealing for the universalising concept of non-whites as “negres” as
well as the argument that women should not be employed to do arduous work.
On 4 February there was another meeting of the syndicalists, who were again
complaining about foreign workers, in particular the Portuguese on this occasion. It
was pointed out that foreign workers led to the “releve des ouvriers mobilises.” The
syndicalist delegate, Valette, responded that it was a point he often brought up with
the management. He asserted that the union cannot tolerate unemployment or
redundancies as long as there are foreigners in the establishment. This was
1120 AN F/7/13361 Police Reports from the Loire-InfiSrieure, 1 September, 1918
1121 AN F/7/12986/1, 19 January, 1918.
279
unanimously approved.1122 The accusation that foreign workers were allowing French
soldiers to go to the front was also levelled against Algerians in Lyon.1123 In Rennes,
under the slogan “Rendez nous nos poilus”, female workers at an atelier de
construction went on strike demanding wage increases and the sending back of the
foreign and colonial workforce.1124 Discussing the complaints of dockers in Le Havre
and Dunkerque at their unemployment due to usage of prisoners, Belgians and
Moroccans, a M. Perrette talked o f brawls between the Moroccans and the local
population .1125
In La Bataille, the “Mouvement Social” section described a variety of disputes over
wages and work hours throughout the war. It featured a letter from unionised bakers
in Narbonne to their bosses
Voila quelque temps que notre situation devient inquiete de fait que, sans nullement vous emouvoir,
vous nous mettez sur le pave pour nous remplacer par des ouvriers Strangers.
A un moment, vous dutes, par suite du manque de main d’oeuvre, faire appel a leur concours: mais la
n’est pas notre grief puisqu’ils etaient necessaires.
Mais ce qui est inadmissible aujourd’hui c ’est que vous nous eliminez pour le conserver; seraient-ils
plus habiles? Nous ne pouvons le croire, vous les auriez appeles bien avant. Souvenez-vous un instant
qu’ils n’ont pas toujours ete la, que nous, qui sommes du pays, avons besoin de manger et qu’en nous
dormant du travail, vous faites vivre des Fran9ais.
Nous voulons bien, de compagnie avec les etrangers, faire notre ouvrage, a condition toutefois qu’il y
en ait pour nous d’abord, surtout en ce moment, ou la vie est si dure.1126
This letter makes clear that acceptance of foreign labour, such as there was, was
contingent on it being considered unavoidable. However, it was totally unacceptable
to employ it at the expense of French workers. The letter also appeals to national
solidarity, as well as asserting the superiority of French workers.
1122 AN F/7/12986/1, 4 February, 1918.
1123 Massard-Guilbaud, Des Algeriens a Lyon, p. 48.
1124 Meynier, L ’Algerie Revelee, p. 469.
1125 AN F/14/11333 Minutes o f the Conference Interministerielle de la Main d’CEuvre, 23 June, 1917
1126 reprinted in La Bataille, 2 January, 1916.
280
In June 1917 the police reported on a meeting of Ouvrieres in the Poudrerie in
Toulouse, where relations between the French workforce and the Annamite one were
frosty.
Une autre s’eleva contre le projet de mettre les femmes a la nitration et dit qu’il faudra refuser d’y aller;
Eh bien! on y mettra les Annamites, s’ecrie une femme. [...] Si on met les annamites a la nitration”
s’ecria un ouvrier qui faisait partie du bureau, nous, bien que nous soyons militaires et n’ayons rien a
dire, nous savons ce que nous avons a faire. Je ne le dis pas et pour cause, mais je suppose que vous
devez me comprendre. [...] L’assemblee proteste contre la presence des annamites surtout lorsque un
autre ouvrier lan?a cette phrase: “souvenez-vous qu’a Paris, pour les demieres greves, les annamites
etaient aux mitrailleuses!”1127
A few days later the police reported that the workers did eventually take direct action
over the issue. As with many worker’s demonstrations when men did not play the
leading role, it was described in dismissive terms by the police, who noted that most
of the leading demonstrators were “young kids of 14 and 15 and women, “ouvrieres
de moeurs legeres” working at the Poudrerie.”1128 Again, female immorality is
considered to be inextricably linked with a failure to fulfill their wartime role. In a
dispute over the employment of Indochinese in the Puy-de-Dome, at a time when
there were French workers unemployed, the dispute became framed in explicitly
racial terms. Unionists, led by a M. Claussat complained about the inequity of the
situation, but their complaints were rebuffed by the Prefect. Claussat responded “vous
vous mettrez a la tete des jaunes si vous le voulez, moi je me mettrai a la tete des
blancs.”1129
According to Police reports on the unions in Nantes, the main issues in the summer of
1918 were wages and demands for peace. In a rare discussion on the issues of women
and foreigners, it was argued that women should not have to work more than 8 hours
or at night, as it led to the adandonment of their children and domestic disharmony. In
the likely event that the end of the war would lead to a surplus of foreigners, it was
1127 AN F/7/12986/1, 9 June, 1917.
1128 AN F/7/12986/1, 14 June, 1917.
1129 AN F/7/13365 Report presented to the Ministry of the Interior, 18 January, 1916
281
declared they should never be employed ahead of the French.1130 These views were
replicated around the country.
Foreign and Female Workers in Economic Debates
One issue that demonstrates the consistency of attitudes over both gender and race is
the debate over post-war immigration. As was seen earlier, issues of depopulation and
race were strongly linked, and this was also crucial to understanding which
nationalities were encouraged to immigrate to France and which were not.
For an industrialist and modernist like Camille Cavallier the economic situation was
poor even before the war, as he lamented that an insufficient workforce, enfeebled by
alcoholism, syphilis, slum housing and tuberculosis had hindered industrial expansion
and the introduction of “travailleurs etrangers inexperimentes et d’humeur
vagabonde” had made little difference. After the armistice these problems were
aggravated by the casualties of the war. Cavallier focused on three types of changes
needed to provide France with the workforce she needed. Temporary changes
included employing women and foreigners, as well as the re-education of the war
wounded.
Permanent
measures
were
technocratic
-
promoting
taylorism,
mechanisation, standardisation and so on. It was also essential to struggle against
alcoholism, syphillis, tuberculosis and malthusianism.1131 For Cavallier, the reason
that women could only be a temporary solution was that he didn’t think they would be
able to produce the children France needed and “travailler efficacement a l’usine.”1132
Immigration was necessary as a temporary expedient, but “[i]l faudra aller a l’etranger
chercher une main d’oeuvre qui exigera, pour s’adapter, beaucoup de precautions et
des essais perseverants et attentifs.” Cavallier set out the order in which he believed
foreign workers should be recruited. First should be those from neighbouring
countries, then from other European countries, particularly with high birth rates. After
that they should utilise countries overseas having European civilisations before,
1130 AN F/7/13361 Police Reports from the Loire-Inferieure, 2 June, 1918; 5 August, 1918
1131 Cavallier, L ’Avenir de la France, p. 18.
1132 C. Cavallier, Apres Guerre; La Metallurgie Frangaise, Des ameloriations, evolutions et reformes
qui seraient necessaires dans ses methodes, ses moyens, son esprit. Paris: Chaix (1917) p. 25
282
finally, searching in exotic nations, aiming to avoid as much as possible a melange of
races and civilisations.1133
The need for immigration was widely accepted, both to maintain France’s population
levels, stricken by the vast number o f war dead, and also to rebuild the French
economy. It was hardly welcomed; most people hoped it would be only an interim
measure, and French response to domestic unemployment and xenophobic popular
sentiment in 1919 and 1921 was to close the borders, reopening them as soon as the
crisis had passed.1134 Nevertheless, by and large, as Gary Cross argues, “by the 1920s
most French recognized that a regulated flow of foreign workers was essential to
French prosperity.” Moreover it was “... agreed that this meant eliminating as much as
possible the entry o f ‘undesirables’, i.e., colonial and Chinese labor, and securing
regular streams o f selected European workers.”1135
As Dewitte notes, this choice for European immigrants ahead of non-European labour
showed the importance o f racial ideas. For employers
l’ordre social fran9ais courant sans doute plus de risques au contact des travailleurs italiens ou polonais,
tres politises, mieux organises, moins malleables que les coloniaux. L’argument ethnique est quant a lui
determinant: des elements ‘trop distincts du reste de la population’ risquent provoquer un racisme de
retour de la part des travailleurs franfais.1136
Dewitte acknowledges that the belief that colonial labour was of poor standard and
the shortage o f manpower in the colonies were also factors in the choice, but they
•
•
•
*1137
were secondary to concerns over the impact of non-whites in French society.
It wasn’t simply the “otherness” o f colonial peoples that rendered them undesirable as
immigrants. Elisa Camiscioli has persuasively argued that in the debates over
immigration, the immigrants were viewed as essential, not simply to replace the
French war dead in the fields and in the factories, but also in the task of repopulating
1133 Cavallier, Apres Guerre, p. 18, p. 24
1134 Schor, L ’Opinion Frangaise et les Etrangers, p. 83.
1135 Gary Cross, “Toward Social Peace and Prosperity: The Politics of Immigration in France during
the Era of World War I” in French Historical Studies, 11-4 (1980) p. 610, p. 619.
1136 Dewitte, Les Mouvements Negres en France, p. 19.
1137 Dewitte, Les Mouvements Negres en France, p. 19.
283
France.
1138
France needed single men who could marry a Frenchwoman and spare her
from the spectre o f celibacy enforced by the slaughter of young Frenchmen on the
Western Front, but only if they fitted the correct racial profile.1139
The most desirable immigrants were seen as the Italians, the Poles and the Spanish as
they were considered the easiest to assimilate and they would not alter the racial
composition o f France too greatly. In addition, it was hoped that they retain the
fecundity and commitment to hard work and the family that existed in their home
countries.1140 For Jules Amar, what made Italians the best choice for migrant work in
France was racial and cultural affinity. Italians were, incontestably, the workers
closest to the French in terms o f spirit “et la tendance a contracter des habitudes
soeurs. [...] Par la race, par la force hereditaire d’une culture semblable, ils possedent
des elements d’affinite qui les cimentent, plus que tout autre peuple, a notre edifice
social, sans laisser voir les joints.”1141 A report by the Commissions departmentales de
la Natalite concluded that Italians and Spaniards were the quickest to assimilate, with
the Poles not far behind. Armenians, Levantines and central-European Jews however
had a “mentality very different from that of the French population” and assimilation
would require several generations to occur. As for North Africans, their assimilation
was “nearly impossible”.1142 In 1924, the eminent paediatrician and founder member
of the French Society o f Eugenics, Eugene Apert, called for a total block on the
immigration o f “des Noirs et des Jaunes, des Blancs de pays non frontaliers, des tres
jeunes, des malades” making an explicit link between those who were undesirable on
racial grounds and those who were sick or too young.1143
This is not to say that it was considered safe to allow other Europeans to enter France
freely. The pronatalist campaigner Albert Troullier argued that
immigration cannot be the primary means o f fighting the national danger of depopulation. It is only a
temporary remedy, and a perilous one at that. Immigration should only allow us to wait for the re­
1138 Camiscioli, “Producing Citizens, Reproducing the ‘French Race’” esp. pp. 594-607.
1139 Camiscioli, “Producing Citizens, Reproducing the ‘French Race’” p. 595, p. 602.
1140 Camiscioli, “Producing Citizens, Reproducing the ‘French Race’” pp. 595-596, p. 606.
1141 Amar, Organisation Physiologique du Travail, pp. 205-6
1142 Camiscioli, “Producing Citizens, Reproducing the ‘French Race’” p. 605.
1143 Carol, Histoire de I ’Eugenisme en France, p. 185.
284
establishment o f French demographic power, without modifying the special characteristics of the
race.1144
Troullier likened the introduction o f immigrants to a blood transfusion. “There exist
actual blood types and one cannot, without great danger, mix the blood of different
and incompatible groups”.1145 Pierre Mille made a similar argument on a cultural
rather than racial basis, arguing that despite the need for more people, immigration
could only happen in moderation or it would overwhelm the French way of life.1146
The argument in favour o f peace made in La Vague by three of the French delegates
who attended the Kienthal conference was also based on the fear that foreigners could
ruin the French nation. “La France s’epuise de plus en plus. Elle risque de devenir la
proie des etrangers ou de n’etre plus qu’une expression geographique.”1147 In his
book, L ’Avenir de la race, A.-L Galeot raised a similar spectre. Having described the
dangers of having a smaller population than other countries, describes a depopulated
France: “des campagnes sans paysans, des usines a demi peuplees de techniciens et
d’ouvriers etrangers, une finance cosmopolite, un commerce peu a peu envahi par les
gens du dehors”.1148 Depopulation didn’t simply involve a diminishing of French
power, it involved a diminishing o f the French race. Galeot was unusual in fearing the
impact of European more than colonial immigration, arguing that he preferred it when
French companies hired colonial non-white labour ahead of foreign European labour
as it meant that at least their wages stayed within the empire. This did not mean that
he had an unusually high opinion o f colonial workers, as he later argued that the
French race deserved better than numerical decline. “On peut souhaiter celui-ci pour
des races inferieures, occupant inutilement la surface du globe, sans benefice pour la
reste de l’humanite.”1149
Those who advocated immigration were tom between fear of the damage that large
scale immigration might do to French society, and the French race, yet a depopulated
France risked its very existence. These two currents of thought are illustrated by an
1144 quoted in Camiscioli, “Producing Citizens, Reproducing the ‘French Race’” p. 603.
1145 quoted in Camiscioli, “Producing Citizens, Reproducing the ‘French Race’” p. 601 Emphasis in
the original.
1146 Le Petit Marseillais, 19 June, 1916.
1147 La Vague, 4 April, 1918.
1148 Galeot, L ’Avenir de la race, pp. 21-22.
1149 Galeot, L ’A venir de la race, pp. 158-159, p. 314.
285
article by Jean Hennessy in L ’CEuvre where he argued that while workers might
temporarily enjoy the benefits o f a restricted workforce, in the longer term they risked
turning France into a European equivalent of Australia or New Zealand countries that
Hennessy argued were nearly closed to immigration, but because of that susceptible to
invasion from “des prolifiques Asiatiques.” However, at the same time as advocating
that workers be educated to except immigration, he argued that it needed to be
regulated so that “une seule race ne deforme pas le notre”.1150
In the debates over immigration, the example of the United States loomed large. In
general the United States was consistently seen as a negative example of racial
mixing. One writer who had applauded the contribution of colonial troops was Rosny,
but in 1916 writing in L ’Illustration, he argued that, after the Allies had won the war
“les Etats-Unis n’echapperont pas a la plus sinistre guerre sociale. Les hommes des
trusts seront balayes. La guerre des races suivra, plus sinistre encore.”1151 In offering
an advocacy o f importing Chinese workers, Laffranque felt impelled to respond to
potential criticism that these workers might result in social disturbances, like in the
United States. He said this need not happen as long as the Chinese were supervised by
men from their own race and obliged to return home when their contracts expired.
1 1O
The idea that races were incapable o f coexisting in the United States was surely one
that applied to France as well. In 1922, the deputy Auguste Isaac linked fears over
depopulation with those o f racial mixing, with the United States once again offered as
an example to be wary of.
If the white race restrains [its births], who will guarantee us that the yellow race will follow its
example? Who will assure us that the black race will sacrifice the fecundity which, to cite but one
example, is a cause o f anxiety for whites in the United States.1153
There were dissenting opinions. Daniel Lesueur’s poem offered a more positive
perspective on racial interaction in the United States.
Etats-Unis, creuset formidable des races!
1150L ’CEuvre, 10 October, 1916
1151 quoted in Nouailhat, La France et les Etats-Unis, p. 684.
1152 AN F /l2/8024, 1 February, 1916.
286
Jeune univers, qui fit fleurir en tes espaces
Une nouvelle humanite
Le Monde en tes sillons lan?a tant d’energie
Que ton Peuple naissant, moisson bientot surgie
Eut pour premier cri: Liberte!1154
Lesueur was an exceptional case though.
Henriette Perrin’s childrens book portrayed the United States as a exotic mix of races,
in a largely positive fashion —the book itself was aimed at enthusing French children
about their new ally. The book told the story of trip to America by two French
schoolchildren, Lise and Jean, and their parents. They visit New York, where they go
to a restaurant. “Le service est fait par des negres, par de vrai negres, bien noirs, qui
ont Fair empresses et assez gentils.”1155 Perrin describes New-York as a great
cosmopolitan city, the melting pot o f all the races and all the civilisations, with every
language and colour o f skin. She recounts the astonishment of Lise at encountering a
little negro baby wearing a lace hood inside a white pram. Lise was even more
astonished when she met some Chinese children, “oui, des vrais enfants chinois, tels
qu’on les represente sur les eventails et les potiches.” Despite the generally positive
tone, Perrin is clearly emphasising these exotic scenes as something to wonder at
rather than imitate. The point is made explicitly when Lise and Jean saw the Chinese
children eating rice with their bread “ce qui les amusa beaucoup, mais ne leur donna
aucune envie de les imiter.”1156
Other writers argued that even if the United States had managed to successfully build
a nation, that did not mean that France could follow a similar pattern. Galeot argued
that the impact o f permanent immigration need not be too damaging to a new country,
without a clearly defined national character, like America. Indeed it could even be
advantageous if the immigrants were o f a “race suffisamment douee”. For an old
nation, desiring to conserve their national characteristics, a similar influx of foreigners
risked denationalisation. Galeot believed that certain French regions had already been
1153 quoted in Camiscioli, “Producing Citizens, Reproducing the ‘French Race”’ p. 598.
1154 Nouailhat, La France et les Etats-Unis, p. 696.
1155 Perrin, Nos Allies les Americains, p. 16.
287
affected by this phenomenon, notably Marseille.1157 Ferri-Pisani argued that the
United States had managed to achieve national unity by enforcing strict measures of
cultural conformity. He quoted an American career soldier describing how “[u]ne loi
rigoreuse nous a habitues des l’enfance a la soumission anglo-saxonne.” This allowed
the Americans to transform all its myriad races into yankees.1158 That this applied
only to the white races o f the United States though is illustrated by Ferri-Pisani’s
description of New York. He described all the various European peoples in the city as
rational peoples, then mentioned that there are also “d’etranges prophetes, aux visages
de fakirs, venus tout droit de l ’lnde mysterieuse”.1159
If anything, encountering American soldiers may have encouraged French suspicion
of non-white peoples. The Lyon police reported frequent brawls between American
soldiers and Indochinese and Chinese workers. These incidents were only minor, but
were escalating. Because the Americans were so well-liked, due to their noble bearing
as well as their generosity, the French population was now exhibiting contempt for the
Chinese and Indochinese. It was advised that the Americans should be kept apart from
non-white contingents.1160
The extent to which the issue o f female and immigrant labour was a priority for the
men in power can be exaggerated. In 1917 the Congress of the Association Nationale
d ’Expansion Economique, a body made up of the industrial and agricultural elite,
gave a report containing seven pages o f recommendations on how to reconstitute the
French economy after the war, which made no mention of women workers at all. For
them the lesson that workers had to learn was that ‘T amelioration du sort des
travailleurs est liee au developpment de l’emploi des moyens mecaniques et a
l’intensite du rendement du travail.” Similarly, a five-page report on agriculture failed
to mention women; again mechanisation was considered the main issue.1161 At the
next session, the minister for commerce, Clementel, spoke about wartime organisation
of labour. In a 14-page speech, women were only mentioned briefly, when he noted
1156 Perrin, Nos Allies les Americains, p. 22.
1157 Galeot, L ’A venir de la race, p. 132
1158 Ferri-Pisani, L ’Interet et I ’ideal des Etats-Unis, p. I l l , pp. 111-113.
1159 Ferri-Pisani, L ’Interet et I ’ideal des Etats-Unis, p. 127.
1160 AN F/7/13360, Police Report, 14 September, 1917.
1161 AN F /l2/8001,26 March, 1917.
288
(without further comment) that the proportion of women in the workplace was higher
than before the war.1162 In the deliberations of the departmental sub-committees for
economic action in the Le Mans region, they wanted every available soldier who
wasn’t fighting to be available to work in the fields at harvest time. In industry they
wanted some reforms o f regulations; they also wanted more work to be done by
prisoners of war. There was no mention of female labour, or request for immigrant
labour.
1163
When La Bataille addressed the question of the post-war workforce it dealt
with Taylorism and the length o f the working week; women’s employment issues
were not considered as crucial.1164 Amongst the trade unions in the Haute-Garronne,
in the immediate aftermath o f the war there was a concern for the newly unemployed
women. However from then onwards, both women and foreign labour disappeared
almost entirely from the agenda, while the debate moved on to class-consciousness
and the 8-hour day.1165 On the other side o f the political spectrum, Paul Negrier wrote
on the economic future o f France, advocating the modernisation of French industry.
Negrier was an avowed modernist, but in his criticism of old systems of working he
revealed that he retained traditional ideas on the organisation of society. For him, the
problem with old working practices was that they were not capable of adequately
rewarding “un jeune ouvrier travaillant activement et augmentant sa production, avec
l’espoir de procurer a sa femme et a ses enfants une plus grande quantite de bienetre.”'166
Conclusion
The utilisation o f European immigrant labour had been a regular recourse for French
employers for a long time preceding the First World War. The war itself temporarily
closed off some traditional avenues for obtaining workers, making Italian and Belgian
labour harder to acquire, but the basic position of white immigrant labour in France
1162 AN F/12/8001, 26 March, 1917.
1163 AN F /l2/7999.
\\6 4 La Bataille, 27 September, 1916.
1165 AN F/7/ 12986/1, 14 April, 1918.
1166 Paul Negrier, Organisation technique et commerciale des usines d ’apres les methodes
americaines (systeme Taylor), Paris: Dunod & Pinat (1918) p. 3
289
remained similar. Immigrants were considered useful, an adequate substitute for
French workers where necessary, but still undesirable and deserving of suspicion.
The greater demands for foreign workers to cover for mobilised Frenchmen, as well
as the lack o f availability o f European labour led to an experimental large-scale hiring
during the war o f non-white workers. This experiment was not judged a success, as
racial suspicion and incomprehension hindered both the hiring and utilisation of
colonial workers. A combination o f popular antipathy and low regard for the
responsibility and aptitude o f non-white workers led to colonial contingents being
restricted to working in large teams and living in isolated barracks, which allowed
little opportunity for them to prove themselves as workers or to break down
prejudices. This low opinion was not restricted to metropolitan France, but extended
to the colonies such as West Africa where, as Conklin argues, the French
administrators after the war requisitioned forced labour because they “never doubted
that Africans were lazy and had to be forced to work”.1167
Female labour was neither a new phenomenon during the war nor a new concern. In
January 1914, E. Thomas wrote that
Par comparaison avec les chifffes d’il y a quarante-cinq ans, la population feminine laborieuse a
double. Ce n’est pas un signe de prosperity nationale, ni surtout la preuve que le foyer familial est plus
a l’aise que autrefois.1168
There was a great continuity throughout the conflict over the concept that there were
jobs that women were best suited to, and the sort of terms used to describe them. A.
A. Bonnefoy in 1913 found no contradiction in arguing that the moment had arrived
to incorporate into France’s laws, customs and practices the principle of social,
economic, civil and political unity between women and men but also that
Ces femmes nouvelles savent que le role le plus beau, le plus noble qui puisse leur etre attribue consiste
a etre epouse et meres. Elles aspirent a remplir cette double mission dans toute sa plenitude, en
exe^ant les droites qui sont le corollaire de leurs devoirs.1169
1167 Conklin, “Colonialism and Human Rights” p. 440.
1168 Le Petit Marseillais, 3 January, 1914.
290
Bonnefoy acknowledged that circumstances might preclude women from following
their desired path towards marriage and motherhood and urged that they be able to
earn a living in a manner that conformed to their aptitudes and their conventions.
Claiming to have done extensive research into the area of work and gender, Bonnefoy
came to a simple conclusion : “il convient de donner a l’homme les carrieres actives,
et a la femme les carrieres sedentaires.” He had earlier defined what jobs he
considered sedentary as office work which demanded only the qualities of order and
exactitude.1170
In 1916, offering the views o f the Lyon Chamber of Commerce, Morel argued that
due to the veritable dearth o f men after the war that women should take over
employment in public administration, freeing men to work in commerce and
•
industry.
1171
Also in 1916 the Calvados committee of economic action suggested that
the three most obvious areas where women could be used to replace men were:
cleaning (which could be done by maids), nurses (because women had proved their
competence and devotion in the Red Cross) and secretarial work which could be done
by women or adolescents.1172
In 1919, the parliamentary committee on female work argued that men should be
obliged to take on the wrok that only they were capable of doing, “aux femmes furent
devolus les travaux que 1’experience avait montres susceptibles de leur etre
confies.”1173 Just as before the war, women’s work was seen as unskilled,
undemanding and less valuable. Though a considerable number of new jobs were now
classified as such and hence now available to women, the discourses that governed the
employment o f women and their relative place in society remained largely intact.
The limited impact that colonial and female workers had made in persuading
Frenchmen of their ability to perform skilled or high-quality work is summed up by
1169 A. A. Bonnefoy, Place aivc femmes! Les carrieres feminines administrative et liberales. Paris:
Fayard (1913) pp. 6-7.
1170 Bonnefoy, Place aux femmes! p. 7, p. 13, p. 8.
1171 Chambre de Commerce de Lyon, L ’Apres-Guerre, Lyon: Rey (1916) pp. 4-10, p. 11.
1172 AN F/12/8004, 12 February, 1916.
1173 Comite du travail feminin, Protection et utilisation de la main d ’ceuvre feminine, p. 6.
291
the comments o f Louis Duval-Amould, the president of the pro-family league La Plus
Grande Famille, writing in 1926
The recruitment o f European workers is more valuable than that of colonials, which was attempted at
the end of the war and now seems to have been abandoned. The quality o f [colonial] labour was
revealed to be feminine, no doubt the result o f profound differences of mores and climate.1174
For Duval-Amold, “feminine” labour could be unproblematically written off as
inadequate, whether performed by women or feminised men, while colonial workers
were unable to surmount their different backgrounds to do the work of a (European)
man.
1174 Camiscioli, “Producing Citizens, Reproducing the ‘French Race’” p. 606.
292
Conclusion
For France’s colonial subjects the war had the least impact on how they were viewed
by the metropolitan population. Every attempt was made to minimise contact between
colonial soldiers and workers and French civilians. The recruitment and utilisation of
non-white peoples, as well as the summary way they were sent home at the end of the
conflict were informed by popular and scientific views of their essential nature that
were maintained consistently throughout the war. Colonial women were almost
entirely absent from France during the war, and appeared primarily in discourses
highlighting the erotic or backward nature of the countries in France’s empire.
The descriptions o f Black Africans took two primary forms, firstly emphasising their
childish nature, generous but also credulous, irrational and impulsive and secondly
emphasising their fearless, fearsome nature in combat. These views were expressed
by those both hostile and favourable to the empire and to the utilisation of colonial
soldiers. Pierre Mille was a journalist described by Alphonse Seche as one of the
writers with the most understanding o f the psychology of Blacks in France, and also a
self-professed “indigenophile convaincu” who would go on to become President of
| t nc
the Societe des Auteurs Coloniaux after the war.
Given these credentials, then
Mille’s opinions must have carried some weight.
He argued that, out o f combat, the African was a chatterbox, impulsive, easily
offended, and subject to blind rages. Not only that but he was a scatterbrain, a
daydreamer, and nai've as well. Like a thick-headed schoolboy, he would try
unsuccessfully to retain the most simple orders, only to return two hours later
desperate and contrite saying “My lieutenant, what you say? ... Me forget all.” He
was also puerile in his games, his songs, his dances and his arguments. But he was
brave, brave to the point o f folly.1176 The motif of infantilism recurs repeatedly, with
the comparison to a schoolboy, with references to the puerility of African culture as
well as the immature characteristics and use o f language.
1175 Seche, Les Noirs, p. 37, Le Petit Marseillais, 25 July, 1917. For an examination of Mille’s
colonial literature, see Hargreaves, The Colonial Experience in French Fiction.
1176 Seche, Les Noirs, pp. 37-38.
293
If Mille’s portrayal o f Africans offers a relatively benign perspective on the
backwardness o f African society, others placed more emphasis on its perceived
brutality. While this brutality was generally considered acceptable, and even
desirable, when it could be utilised against the enemy, it was the subject of great
disquiet internally. This led to stringent attempts to keep non-white soldiers and
workers under surveillance, and in particular to keep them away from French women.
The idea o f non-whites as savages was largely unchanged by the war, and was often
mentioned in contexts far removed from the debates over the empire, or its
populations. For example, Fenelon Gibon, the Secretary of L’Association pour le
repos et la sanctification du Dimanche arguing in favour of Sunday rest spoke in
passing of “savages as ferocious as those from Australia”.1177 Similarly, among a list
of maxims designed to encourage French soldiers to swim was one that demanded
“L’homme sauvage sait NAGER et toi homme civilise sais-tu?”1178
The perceived savagery o f French African troops in combat was repeated throughout
the war. While it only took a few months o f the war before newspapers abandoned the
descriptions o f French troops joyfully charging towards the Germans, brandishing
their bayonets; similar descriptions o f colonial soldiers were still common in 1918.
The belief that African troops were incomparable in the assault due to their love of
battle, their reckless bravery and their preference for hand-to-hand combat was shared
by military strategists and popular opinion alike. While North Africans were generally
regarded as somewhat more developed as a race than sub-Saharan Africans, in terms
of military performance, there was little difference.
By contrast, the Indochinese were regarded very differently, being seen as having
much more feminine qualities than Africans. They were believed to have less physical
strength and less courage, but were defter with their hands. Nonetheless, they were
also regarded as being more like children than (white) adults.
1177 Fenelon Gibon, Les Bienfaits du Dimanche, Paris: Notre Dame des Anges (1917) p. 4. From the
context, it is clear that Gibon was referring to the aboriginal population o f Australia.
1178 Emile Menin, Maximes et Leqons sur la Natation, Paris: “Le Jeune Soldat” (1916) p. 1. Emphasis
in the original.
294
Just as French writers emphasised the childlike nature of non-white individuals, so
they referred to other races as in a state o f infancy. Just as experts on assimilation
argued that certain races required little time to blend in with the French, but other less
developed races needed much longer, so other races were also seen to be at different
stages of progress towards civilisation. Azan talked about the French and the North
Africans and “all the difference which separates the two races in their different stages
of civilization.”1179 In a typical example, Albert Lebrun quoted the senator Henry
Berenger approvingly.
La France en armes a compte parmi ses meilleures troupes de choc les formations indigenes et les
contingents coloniaux. Le sang nouveau des races jeunes a coule a flot lorsqu’il lui a fallu tout a coup
s’offfir avec le vieux sang gaulois pour la defense et le maintien de la patrie menace. Aussi la meme
sepulture abrite-t-elle aujourd’hui depuis la capitale jusqu’a la frontiere, nos fils de la metropole et nos
enfants des colonies.1180
The customary references are made to the shock value of the colonial troops, but the
stress is on the “new blood” o f the “enfants” from the colonies compared to the “old
blood” of France. Another common adjective used to describe non-whites and to
emphasise their backwardness was “fruste”, unsophisticated or coarse. Gaillet said of
Coulibaly that “L’exterieur est fruste, mais le coeur est bon.”1181 Augustin Bernard
argued that:
Les musulmans de l’Affique du Nord se rendent compte que leurs interets economiques sont lies aux
notres et, si frustes que soient leurs cerveaux, ils nous sont reconnaissants d’un certain nombre de
bienfaits que nous leur avons apportes.1182
The conception o f nations and races on a road towards maturity and civilisation
recurred in various different contexts. It could work in reverse: civilisations could also
regress, and this was often suggested in respect of Germany. It provided a liberal
justification for France’s colonial expansion; as the colonial textbook Moussa and Gigla argued, the more civilised French could offer instruction and example to the
1179 Cooke, “Paul Azan and L'Armee Indigene Nord-Africaine” pp. 134.
1180 La Depeche Coloniale, 1 July, 1916.
1181 Le Petit Marseillais, 19 December, 1917.
1182 La Depeche Coloniale, 7 July, 1916.
295
Africans and hasten their path to progress.1183 William Ponty, the Governor General
of Senegal wrote in May 1914 in a circular
Even if Africans quickly forgot the French words they had learned at school, they would not forget the
ideas they conveyed, [...] ideas that are our own and whose use endows us with our moral, social and
economic superiority. [That] will little by little transform these barbarians o f yesterday into disciples
and agents.1184
The prime example o f progress through imitating the West was held to be Japan. For
Giraud:
le Japon s’est, depuis 1868, mis resolument a l’6cole des grandes puissances europeennes. Jamais
aucun peuple, en un aussi bref espace de temps, n’a aussi completement transform^ sa vie materielle,
politique et sociale.1185
Yet this transformation still left Japan a long way from being seen as on a par with
Western civilisation. When the Germans criticised Britain for the dangerous step of
bringing Japan into the war, the Depeche did not respond by arguing of Japan’s right
to enter the war but by pointing out the Germans own failure in allying with the
degenerate Turks. In the years after the war French pronatalists raised the spectre of
the “yellow peril”, the risk that the high birth rates in the Far East might disturb the
“equilibrium o f the races”.1186
The length of time it took to achieve civilisation was measured in centuries rather than
decades. The Petit Marseillais argued that the ability to learn and to apply acquired
knowledge was retarded in Russia compared to the West because Russia had only
joined the civilised world in the 18th century. L ’Eclair du Midi dismissed two
centuries of civilised behaviour in the Ottoman Empire as only a cloak for their true
nature.1187 Y.-E. Norves argued this explicitly in L ’Ouest-Eclair. “Rien n’est plus
immuable que TIslam. II faut des siecles pour transformer les races et aucune race
n’est moins ‘assimiable’ que le sont les races nord-africaines.” Just as L ’Eclair du
1183 Sonolet, Peres, Moussa et Gi-gla, p. 83.
1184 Alice L. Conklin, “Colonialism and Human Rights, A Contradiction in Terms? The Case of
France and West Africa, 1895-1914” in The American Historical Review, 103-2 (1998) p. 429.
1185 Giraud, Histoire de la grande guerre, p. 21.
1186 Camiscioli, “Producing Citizens, Reproducing the ‘French Race’” p. 599.
1187 Le Petit Marseillais, 7 March, 1914, L ’Eclair du Midi, 27 May, 1917.
296
Midi warned that the appearance o f civilised behaviour amongst the Turks could not
be relied upon, so Norves cautioned on the wily ways of the North Africans.
Mais il n’y a pas d’individus dans d’autres peuples (si ce n’est chez les IsraSlites) qui prennent avec
plus de facilite, avec un sens plus precis de l’imitation, l’apparence, la maniere d’agir —toute exterieure
et superficielle - habituelles aux peuples auxquels ils se trouvent meles hors de leur pays.”1188
Guignard, commenting on Western reactions to the dancing they encountered in
Africa, pointed out that the waltz and the polka appeared scandalous to the savages of
the interior, although they were now familiar to the “educated natives” of the
ports.1189 This clearly equates the term savages with unfamiliarity with Western
civilization. However, the fact that Guignard wrote the phrase “educated natives” in
English highlights the implication that these educated natives are still primitive
compared to the genuinely educated whites or even that the entire concept of educated
natives was a foreign concept, alien to French thought.
Maurice Violette, a socialist deputy spoke in ringing terms of how France would
appear in Africa
as a great liberating power [to] peoples still immersed in barbarism [who would] draw on our
reasoning, our methods and our tastes, and, steeped in our genius without dreaming of an impossible
assimilation, they would continue magnificently France overseas ... to produce men in the economic
and moral sense o f the word ... capable ... o f integrating themselves into the movement of universal
exchanges, this is the task.1190
For all this progress though, assimilation was impossible.
The time it was believed necessary to allow the backward races to develop allowed
the French to elide differences between assimilation and association.. If the progress
of these races was going to take centuries and their assimilation many generations
then in practical terms it was irrelevant.
Responding to suggestions that some political rights should be given to France s
colonial subjects, Bernard argued that the French spirit naturally sought to regard all
1188 L ’Ouest-Eclair, 23 January, 1918.
1189 Guignard, Troupes noires, p. 55.
297
the inhabitants o f all France’s possessions as equals but that this was premature.
Although he only argued for a postponement of this equality, it was clear that he
thought that it should be a long time before it happened.
Heritiers de la Rome antique, nous voulons que les peuples de notre empire colonial puissent dire un
jour: Cuncti gens una sumus (Nous sommes tous un meme peuple). Cette g6n6reuse pensee est si
profondement ancree dans Pesprit franijais que rien ne Pen deracinera. Mais ce jour, Messieurs, n’est
pas encore venu.1191
The generous inclusiveness that Bernard spoke of was not greatly evident at the end
of the war. As Schor argues
En effet, pendant les annees de conflit, ils s’etaient habitues a une vision quasi manicheenne de nonFran9ais: les uns etaient des ennemis, des traitres ou des espions qui minaient le pays par Pint6rieur les neutres, souvent assimiles a des mercantis qui avaient profit^ de la guerre pour s’enrichir, n’&aient
pas beaucoup plus estimes -, les autres etaient les courageux allies qui avaient vole au secours d’une
France injustement assaillie. Accessoirement, dans certaines regions, les Fran9ais avaient fait
connaissance d’une main-d’ceuvre immigree, coloniale souvent, appelee pour pallier le manque des
bras et generalement tres critiquee pour sa mediocrite. Le r&ablissement de la paix entraina le depart
progressif des soldats allies. Les Fran9ais se retrouverent done en tete a tete force avec des Strangers
qu’ils redoutaient ou meprisaient.1192
The same theme recurred. Moral worth was based upon behaviour during the war,
filtered through pre-war preconceptions. The only true claim to approval was if you
had contributed to the victory, or been harmed by the scourge of war. This applied to
white Europeans working or fighting in France just as much as it did to non-whites,
and French views o f other European nations as well as the United States were strongly
affected by the roles performed by those nations during the war.
However, although each country’s decision to ally with France, oppose it or remain
neutral was the primary factor in determining how they’d be described, the views the
French expressed on the characteristics o f each nation continued to show significant
consistency with the prewar period. The Germans had been considered efficient,
1190 Conklin, “Colonialism and Human Rights” p. 433.
1191 La Depeche Coloniale, 7 July, 1916.
1192 Schor, L ’Opinion Frangaise et les Etr angers, p. 69.
298
organised and industrious as well as callous, uncultured and militaristic before the
war, and those judgements informed how their actions were understood throughout
the conflict. Thus the atrocities that were perpetrated by German soldiers, and the
many more that were rumoured to have occurred, were consistently attributed to an
orchestrated policy, rather than undisciplined breaches of conduct. The bitterness of
the war did lead to a great increase in the vituperation levelled at the Germans, but
most of the themes had been presaged in the French response to the Franco-Prussian
war and the annexation o f Alsace and Lorraine.
Similarly the motivations o f Allied governments and the performances of their armies
were also understood within the context o f prewar relations. Allied soldiers was
generally welcomed onto French soil, but in order to maintain their popularity they
also needed to demonstrate they were contributing to France’s victory, and without
exploiting the local populace, either financially or sexually.
Though there were some similarities in the ways in which white and non-white
foreigners could be portrayed, there were also major differences. White peoples, even
the hated Germans or the despised Russians, were never considered as uncivilised or
as backward as non-white people. White foreigners were also considered to be
ultimately capable o f assimilating into French society, in a way in which non-whites
were not. This was part o f a broader discourse that saw racial differences between
peoples of the same colour as based on both historical and racial factors, where
historical and cultural factors could mitigate racial difference. By contrast, racial
differences based on colour were seen as well-nigh insurmountable.
As for the insurmountable divide that Barbusse posited between the trenches and the
home front, while such a divide certainly did exist, it was not the primary fissure that
separated France. The most important division was based on suffering and sacrifice
and both men and women could fall on either side of that divide. While the intensity
of feelings aroused by the war did add extra bitterness to male critiques of female
behaviour, the criticisms they made were generally of faults that had traditionally
been seen as feminine, such as being too frivolous or overly concerned with their
appearance. Women were more often praised for their heroism in hospitals, factories
and the fields than they were criticised for failing to perform their allotted role. Sexual
299
unease was a significant factor, but again it was one that was usually understood
within a well-established discourse that featured predatory males exploiting weak
women. Sexual misbehaviour was also believed to be much more common in the
major cities, and Paris in particular, than in the country as a whole.
One issue in which the war did make a big impact on was that of France’s
demographic situation. The massive loss of French life did provide the impetus for a
huge debate as to how to improve the nation’s birth-rate. Some observers did suggest
that the problem was linked to aberrant behaviour by women, who were refusing to
follow their true maternal calling. However, much more common were explanations
that focused on practical obstacles towards having children, such as the expense
involved, and the necessity o f working for many women. Despite much discussion
and some legislation in the aftermath o f the war, French population growth remained
stubbornly sluggish, which suggests that the problem may not have been the priority
for the mass of the population as it was for the elite.
The war did not represent a turning point, because gender relations are always
changing, some people always fear the disappearance of traditional ideas and some
people are always attempting to re-establish what they believe to be the norm. This
was the case before, during and after the war. In that sense the war represents not a
‘turning point’, merely an episode in an ongoing series of changes and struggles that
people made sense o f in the framework of some beliefs they believed to be fixed.
In the workplace, colonial labour was undervalued, partly because the individual
qualities of colonial workers were not highly regarded, and partly because social
concerns led to them primarily being employed in large, unwieldy groups. Though
national authorities made regular attempts to bolster the foreign workforce in an
attempt to counter France’s shortages o f manpower, they were often frustrated by
unwillingness by local authorities and employers to request that labour, stating their
preference for French soldiers or prisoners of war as employees. When the acute
shortage of workers did persuade local authorities to utilise colonial labour, it was
generally badly received and considered a poor substitute for French labour. The
example of the employment o f foreign, and particularly Chinese, workers in the
maritime ports shows that issues over language, morality, productivity and race could
300
all combine to create an atmosphere o f hostility between French workers and
employers and colonial workers. Immigrant labour was utilised slightly more in
regions close to the French border, particularly in the South and South East.
Colonial labour, along with white immigrants and women workers tended to be
grouped together as non-skilled labour. This was crucial as the French economy
mechanised, in a process which privileged skill as a primary factor in determining
suitability for employment. All three groups, but particularly colonial men and white
women were seen as lacking the adaptability and the technical ability to undertake
specialised, professional work, but were seen as competent at routine, generic work.
Throughout the war, both in industry and in agriculture, although women were lauded
for their attempts to substitute for male labour, there were also concerns over their
capacity to undertake the work, and the possible deleterious effect that overwork
might have on their health and their maternal role. The positions which women were
seen to be fulfilling admirably tended to be jobs which could be seen as traditionally
women’s work, such as nursing and sewing.
Throughout the war, cartoon advertising depicted traditional stereotypes. One of the
most common examples is the dental product Dentol, whose commercials portrayed
the merits of their product in the trenches and at the rear. Soldiers of various
nationalities were depicted in familiar terms. The English used Dentol to maintain
their immaculate appearance, while the French fought still better aided by its
magic.1193 The Russians, then still on the allied side, were portrayed as brave, but
savage when they ran out o f ammunition and launched an attack with their teeth. Lest
any of its potential customers should doubt the veracity of this episode, Dentol
referred to news reports o f this happening in their advert.1194 Dentol also portrayed the
popular image o f the captured Prussian at the mercy of a French colonial soldier, by
contrasting the black figure with teeth gleaming in a huge smile and the German
whose near-toothless mouth he was holding open.
1195
1193 Le Petit Marseillais, 10 November, 1915, 9 February, 1916.
1194 Le Petit Marseillais, 20 October, 1915.
1195 Le Petit Marseillais, 22 December, 1915. Another Dentol advertisement played on the same
theme, asking “Why do blacks have such white teeth?” and attributing it to Dentol. L ’Ouest-Eclair, 10
301
Dentol also used traditionalist images of the home front. One cartoon was captioned
“Les deux grands amours d’une bonne mere: son enfant et son DENTOL”1196 Others
depicted a pretty young woman knitting and a teething baby wanting Dentol.1197
When men and women interacted, it was also in a very conventional manner. A
female nurse was portrayed as offering Dentol as an example of her caring role, while
a mother offered it as a present to her grateful son as he left for the front.1198 Dentol’s
advertisements show the importance o f both race and gender, but betray little
modification o f traditional concepts.
Both women and foreigners gained credit for where they were seen as contributing to
the war effort, and were criticised harshly when they did not. But both were seen to be
contributing most significantly when they fulfilled roles that were in keeping with
prewar ideas. Thus women gained most credit for their stoic support for their
husbands and children at the front, for their efforts in nursing and charity and for
raising the next generation o f soldiers. Colonial subjects achieved their acclaim by
unleashing the uncivilised and ferocious side of their character on the Germans, while
humbly submitting to the guidance o f their French superiors the rest of the time. The
magnitude o f the effort made by French soldiers during the war was such that for
contemporaries any other effort was likely to pale in comparison. As Noiriel states,
“In the interwar period, virtually every xenophobic text made some mention to the
French sacrifice during the First World War.”1199 At the same time though, the
conservative and nationalistic Union Nationale des Combattants called for a reduction
in the formalities involved in gaining naturalisation for foreign subjects who had
served in the French army.1200
February, 1916.
1196 Le Petit Marseillais, 14 September, 1917.
1197 l e Petit Marseillais, 22 February, 1918, 27 February, 1918.
1198 Le Petit Marseillais, 1 March, 1916, 15 March, 1916.
1199 Noiriel, The French Melting Pot, p. 202.
1200 Bonnet, Les Pouvoirs Publics Frangais et I ’Immigration dans I ’Entre Deux Guerres, p. 69.
302
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Prefect Reports on morale.
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Agitation against the 3 year law, 1913-1914.
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Ministry o f Public Works documents on the employment of
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